Creating an Income from a Classic American Cake

Michael and Grace Cummings moved to Costa Rica two years ago and now have a profitable income selling the New York-style cheesecake.

Grace had learned a recipe from a friend back in Florida about 10 years ago…and Michael loved it.

“I joked that if I ever lost my job we’re going to open a cheesecake business,” says Michael.

And that’s exactly what they have done.

They moved about two years ago to Heredia, just north of Costa Rica’s capital, San José. It was their intention to set up a small café but after testing the cheesecake on friends and perfecting it, they were persuaded to open a full restaurant.

This business is quite a turnaround for the couple, who are in their 40s. Back in Florida, Michael had worked as a civil engineer and consultant in airport construction for 16 years.

But he grew tired of the on-again, off-again projects and repeated lay-offs that came with the downturn in the economy. They decided to try a new life in Costa Rica, where Grace is from. They already had a house there, which they had bought several years before.

Their customers are half expats (from North American and Europe) and half Costa Rican. Michael says it did take some work to get the locals to try cheesecake. Free samples, conversations with customers, and new converts bringing in friends and family helped spread the word.

“I see people’s faces light up,” says Michael, laughing. “It really is a fantastic cheesecake.”

A major breakthrough came when a local, upmarket convenience-store chain, Fresh Market, decided to stock the cheesecake in 14 of their outlets around the San José metro area.

“I stopped by Fresh Market’s San Pablo location one night,” explains Michael. “I was chatting with the manager, and we got to talking about cheesecakes and he seemed interested in trying one of ours. They decided to include Big Apple Cheesecakes as part of their program: Artesanos de la Conveniencia. It has been great working with them.”

They are now moving their restaurant to a larger space in the town of San Pablo de Heredia. The complete menu is being finalized but the rumor is their chef will be offering other great American favorites such as homemade burgers, pizza, and wings, as well as the cheesecake.

“What we’re making in the business at the moment is going right back in. We want to grow, but we want to grow slowly,” says Michael.

“I’m not new to business—we also have an Internet business—but I’m new to the food business. It’s a lot of fun. I love having my own business. The benefits definitely outweigh the negatives, and we always have a great place to eat.”

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