Success Story

Every month, ITN profiles a tourism industry leader whose success can be used as an example of how to develop fresh ideas to promote Illinois. This month, we introduce Marc S. Schulman, president of The Eli’s Cheesecake Company.

Marc S. Schulman is president of the country’s largest specialty cheesecake bakery – The Eli’s Cheesecake Company, located in the Northwest Side of Chicago. Eli Schulman, Schulman’s late father, invented Eli’s Cheesecake as the signature dessert for his popular Chicago restaurant, Eli’s – The Place for Steak. The now-famous dessert was merely a local delight until 1984, when Schulman put his rising legal career on hold to take over the cheesecake company. Now the company
produces more than 20,000 cheesecakes each day.

Schulman grew up in the tourism business thanks to his father, who was a great community booster, restaurateur and also a member of the former McCormick Place Board. As a high school student, he was a docent for the Chicago Architectural Foundation and gave tours of destinations such as the Loop, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park, Pullman and Graceland Cemetery.

In 1999 Schulman was named the first winner of the Chicago Visitor’s Choice Award for Visitor Marketing. He has also been recognized as one of 10 Outstanding Young Citizens by the Chicago Junior Association of Commerce and Industry for his business and civic achievements, as well as one of the first “40 Under 40” by Crain’s Chicago Business.

The Chicago Tribune named Eli’s Cheesecake one of the city’s best-known food brands in its 150 year commemorative issue, and the Chicago Sun-Times named Eli’s one of the “top 10 Chicago Food Icons.” In 1996, the company joined the Chicago and Illinois tourism industry with the development of Eli’s Cheesecake World – complete with a visitor center and offering unique tours.

“When we opened Eli’s Cheesecake World, we wanted a place that connected with customers on a one-on-one basis,” said Schulman. “People want to know where their cheesecakes are made, to see our process and to have the opportunity to participate in events like the Eli’s Cheesecake Festival or holiday cookie baking.” His advice to Illinois tourism destinations? “Create something that is unique and personal for the guest and make sure that every experience is memorable.”

Schulman also believes strongly that supporting one’s community is beneficial for business and tourism. Eli’s works in cooperation with a neighboring institution, Wright College, to create “Eli’s U.,” a GED classroom onsite at Eli’s, which even attracted a visit from former President Bill Clinton. Eli’s and Wright maintain an educational and community partnership that includes a series of classes for Eli’s associates in areas ranging from food safety to business writing. In addition, Eli’s and Wright jointly sponsor a weekly farmer’s market during the summer.

Schulman spearheaded the campaign to create the Eli M. Schulman Playground in memory of his father and to reconstruct Seneca Park, located in the Near North Side of Chicago, directly across from the Museum of Contemporary Art. For his work, Schulman received a Park Stewardship Award from Friends of the Park, as well as a City Brightener Award from the Bright New City Foundation.

Schulman is a graduate of Northwestern University Law School and the University of Denver. He and his wife Maureen have three children and live in Chicago’s Near North Side.