News Column

Cheesecake Factory CEO Talks Detroit Roots

March 8, 2013

Brent Snavely

David Overton, chairman, CEO and founder of the Cheesecake Factory, grew up in Detroit, but it has taken him 35 years to put a store in Michigan.

The company, founded in 1978, operates 177 restaurants in the U.S. and has $1.8 billion in revenue and is expanding in the Middle East and Latin America.

But the 8,430-square-foot restaurant it opens in August at Twelve Oaks Mall in Novi will be Michigan's first. Overton, 66, talked to the Free Press Thursday about growing up in Detroit and why it took so long for the company to open a restaurant here.

QUESTION: You grew up in Detroit in the 1950s. Where, exactly, did you grow up, and what do you remember of your Detroit childhood?

ANSWER: My mother spent her early years in New York and then came back to where her parents were in Detroit ... she got a recipe out of a newspaper that she changed a bit. She opened a little store, at that time it was at Livernois and Fenkell ... her biggest customers were Carl's Chop House and they delivered to London Chop House for awhile.

Q: Your company operates 177 locations in the U.S. Why did it take so long for the company to open a restaurant in Michigan?

A: For a long time, the economy wasn't good, we just heard horror stories, but we did like this. We do a lot of work with Taubman. They had a front-door location, and this particular mall does very, very well. Really we are more site-driven than anything else ... Also, we were waiting for Troy, for Somerset (Collection) for a long time. And we were close ... and we still like Troy quite a bit.

Q: Would you consider a second location at Somerset Collection?

A: Yes, I would. We have talked to them over the years. We know them very well ... we are in some of their other centers. ... if the appropriate location and size came up, we would consider it.

Q: What is your overall view of the Michigan market, and how many locations would you consider operating here?

A: It's hard to say ... really, we will open one and see if people like us, and see if people in Michigan respond to our menu and our concept and then, of course, we will start looking for others.

Q: You are continuing to add locations in the U.S. and are expanding globally. How big can the company get?

A. There is no end to how big. As a public company you really have to grow. So we will open as many domestic stores as we can ... we think there could be 300 Cheesecake Factories in the States ... we think there could be any number globally.

Q. Cheesecake Factory is known for its big portions. Do you have some low-calorie items on your menu?

A: We do ... We put out a menu and it is called SkinnyLicious. There are over 50 items on that menu, and everything on it is under 590 calories.

Q. But some have criticized the Cheesecake Factory for its large portions and high-calorie entrees.

A. Yeah, yeah, the food police are out there, but we believe in giving people what they want. And for those people who would like other options, there (is) the 590 and under, and it is a great, great menu.

Q. The hit TV show "Big Bang Theory" has a character who works at a Cheesecake Factory restaurant, but it is nothing like the real restaurant. Any concerns about how your restaurant is portrayed?

A: There is no connection between their show and ours. They just did it, there was no permission given. So they are really free to do what they want. But I think there are as many good things as bad things.

Source: (c)2013 the Detroit Free Press. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

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