My daughter has a skill I never acquired. She’s a dab hand at writing “Happy birthday” atop an iced cake, using nothing more than a piece of greaseproof paper cunningly folded into a funnel shape. For this, she can thank her time working at The Cheesecake Shop in Erindale, Canberra in the early 2000s.
The Cheesecake Shop is a franchised cake shop chain that now has more than 200 outlets and 2000 employees across Australia and New Zealand. It started small, with a single shop in Rozelle, a suburb in Sydney’s inner west. The business was created by two brothers: Robert Konopacki, who was a wholesale cake baker, and Warwick Konopacki who was, strangely, a clinical psychologist. According to the legend, it was Warwick’s strong analytical mind that turned their Polish mother’s recipes into an organised product offering.
In 1993, two years after the brothers opened their first store, the first franchised Cheesecake Shop opened around 30km to the west in Baulkham Hills. Its success led to the expansion of the franchise model both nationally and internationally. The Cheesecake Shop opened its first New Zealand store in 1995 and the first in the United Kingdom in 1998.
Everything burbled along nicely until 2016, when the Konopacki brothers decided they’d had enough of cakes and sold the business to an Asian investment group called PAG ( originally Pacific Alliance Group). In 2020, the UK operation was sold and rebranded itself as The Cake Solution. Two years later the Australian and New Zealand business was acquired by an Australian investment group, River Capital.
The product range at The Cheesecake Shop is vast. You’d expect cheesecakes – and baked cheesecakes do remain among the favourite offerings. But they’re pipped for popularity by a vast range of tortes and gateaux along with the classic mud cake. Then there are eggless, vegan and gluten-free ranges, cupcakes, dessert boxes and birthday cakes. Everything is baked in-store – a point of difference from rival Michel’s Patisserie, which uses central factories.
The Cheesecake Shop operation has won a number of awards over the years, including being named Franchisor of the Year in 2020. Customer reviews are mixed though. It seems the quality is uneven across the store network, with comments ranging from “Simply awesome cakes” to “A nasty cheap mess”. It depends on where you go. I was comforted to see that customers at the Erindale store, where my daughter worked so long ago, were very happy with both the cakes and the service.