One of the nation’s most prolific suburban sit-down restaurant chains, Cheesecake Factory, is finally about to land within New York’s city limits. The restaurant known for offering more than 250 menu items and 50 varieties of cheesecake makes its debut at the Queens Center Mall in Elmhurst on Tuesday. The location will feel right on-brand people familiar with the restaurant. It’s in a big corner spot in the mall, with entrances from both the street and inside the mall itself. The bright red lettering of the logo is emblazoned in huge print on the side of the mall, visible from several blocks away. Its most immediate neighbors are Olive Garden, Shake Shack, and one of those soft pretzel stands.
New York’s first Cheesecake Factory is more than 8,000-square-feet and seats about 190 people, plus seats on a patio where the windows can be closed for the winter. It may sound big, but spokeswoman Alethea Rowe says this is actually the kind of size that lets the company open in "smaller markets." "We probably could have built it bigger [for New York]," she says. "This was the space that was available, so we did the best that we could with the space that’s here."
Cheesecake Factory’s been eyeing spaces in New York City for years, Rowe says. The company opened its first restaurant in 1978 in Beverly Hills and now has more than 200 locations across the country. It’s now based in Calabasas, where the Kardashians live and also, as Rowe reminds me, where Justin Bieber once egged his neighbor’s house. Still, rent prices in Manhattan have never been financially doable for a Cheesecake, she says. They’d have to make menu items more expensive to do it, and right now, prices are only higher in Honolulu, where they have to ship in ingredients. "We really think part of our Cheesecake Factory experience is the value you get for your money," Rowe says. "Having to raise prices wouldn’t be a great fit for us." As such, people who visit the Queens location can expect costs similar to ones in suburban Illinois.
It may sound crazy that people are so psyched for a chain restaurant in a city where you can easily eat dishes from all around the world, but they are. In the course of two hours sitting at Cheesecake Factory during staff training, dozens of people of all ages and races peeked their heads in to see if they could eat — teens, the elderly, tourists, locals, young professional-looking couples. Rowe says that at an opening in Greensboro, North Carolina earlier this month, 100 people lined up before the restaurant even opened on opening day. It’s not uncommon for that to happen, she says.
She’s not sure if a crowd will line up in New York. But judging by the number of people who tried to stop in, it’s not out of the question. "We have so many guests who have been dining with us for 30 plus years," she says. "Maybe on vacation, they dined in Beverly Hills. They still have that memory of that meal. We know we have to deliver on what they remember that experience was like." Cheesecake Factory opens on Tuesday at 11:30 a.m., at 90-15 Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst.