Ever dream that your grandpa’s signature hot sauce might be your recipe for success? While starting any business is no easy task, becoming a food entrepreneur is a special challenge. Find out what makes a food-based venture cook with lessons from some of our most recent Tampa Bay startups.
Fourth in a series
Artisan cheesecake slices in a jar -- a delicious solution to the messy problem of serving highly perishable cheesecake-to-go, especially in Florida’s heat.
When LeAnn and Joseph Jackson married in 2009, they shared an Italian heritage and a love for cooking, including a cookbook passed down through four generations in LeAnn’s family. While LeAnn worked as a preschool teacher she cooked cheesecakes for friends and family, adding her own special taste to her “secret family” recipes. For years, they told her one thing over and over: “You need to start selling these!”
One day the Jacksons attended a luncheon where they heard another couple talk about how they started a successful business after being told the same thing. On the way home, they agreed it was time to take the leap.
“LeAnn quit her job three days after we decided and we were up and running in two weeks. It was a whirlwind,” says Joseph, who put another business on hold to work full-time alongside LeAnn, initially helping find a rental kitchen and getting the required inspections and certifications.
Starting out in October 2014 at community markets,
Fresh concept: Artisan cheesecake slices in a jar -- a delicious solution to the messy problem of serving highly perishable cheesecake-to-go, especially in Florida’s heat.
they made whole cheesecakes to sell by the slice -- and quickly discovered they had a serious problem.
“Sun and heat and cheesecake don’t get along. We had to figure out how to do it differently because we were throwing away more than we were selling,” says LeAnn. And when it came to transporting cheesecakes, they could be a “complete mess.”
After many attempts, the couple came across the idea of baking a cheesecake slice right into a jar, which insulates the cold cheesecake and keeps it from melting in the Florida heat. With the jar, customers have a two- to three-hour time window to eat or refrigerate a Le’Anns Cheesecake. Without the jar? About 15 minutes, according to the Jacksons.
While cheesecake sales took off, Joseph added another portable dessert to their repertoire: A classic Italian cannoli based on his own recipe.
Going from “a couple of cheesecakes a week” to averaging 2,000 to 3,000 jars a month, the Jacksons say the business is now supporting them. “We made the turn right about the one-year mark,” says Joseph.
By shifting from markets to focusing on large events that draw 10,000 to 15,000 people, the couple said they gain much higher volume and exposure than they would with farmer’s markets. They use social media – mainly Facebook and Instagram – to keep fans informed of their event schedule.
What’s on the menu: Le’Anns Cheesecakes 'N More
offers 28 mouth-watering “classic” and “premium” cheesecake flavors, including the “Big New York” topped by a cannoli and locally inspired recipes like “Classic Ybor City” with fresh guava jam. There are another 10 options designed for the gluten-free crowd. Customers can also order a 6-pack or 12-pack, which offer variety with a choice of different slices, along with a discount.
Where to buy:
Visit Le’ Anns Cheesecakes on Facebook to follow their event schedule. You can also find their cheesecakes at JJ’s Market & Delicatessen in St. Petersburg, Amichi Pizza in Lutz, Family Friendly Farms in Westshore, and Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium in Brandon. Or you can order online at LeannsCheesecakesnmore.com to have the desserts delivered to your home or business via Mobile Meals.
The next course: Big growth is ahead for this sweet venture, as the cheesecake jars will soon be sold in seven new kiosk locations at Tampa International Airport (TIA) terminals by Newslink, an airport concessionaire.
“It’s a lot easier to take an 8-ounce jar on the plane than a slice of cheesecake,” says LeAnn. In addition, the couple is looking for their own kitchen location, where they’ll sell their desserts in a small café. Other restaurant locations are also in the works.
Food for thought:
If you have a creative idea for a food product, “stop thinking about it and just do it. The only way to find out if it will work is to just for it,” advise the Jacksons. “With the amount of rental kitchens and entrepreneurial assistance throughout the area, all the resources are out there for anyone who has an idea to try it out in a small, cost-effective way,” says Joseph. “We started with no savings and put every dime we had into it, and just grew it slowly and surely. You’ll never have enough money to start a business, but if you keep going and pushing and not taking no for an answer, you can do it.”
83 Degrees Media's series on foodie entrepreneurs: