|“The Big Cheese”
Eli’s Cheesecake may seem mainstream to the average Chicagoan who knows it from grocery shelves and convenience stores, but try paying a visit to Eli’s Cheesecake World and get a friendly yet fabulous
experience. The moment you enter the café you are greeted by a gigantic, ceramic, cheesecake-eating cow on rollerblades as well as a huge display case packed with fresh, mouthwatering cheesecakes and desserts. You may have to wait a few minutes before you go on the factory tour, but waiting has never been more entertaining. Customers can pick up samples of various flavored cheesecakes, brownies and tarts to snack on while Elvis’ “Don’t be Cruel” plays in the background.
Once 1 p.m. rolls around every Monday through Friday, an Eli’s baker leads a group tour through the factory. For $3 a head, customers get to enter Eli’s 62,000 square-foot factory where 17,000 to 19,000 cheesecakes are produced each day. Visitors get to ooh and ahh while watching white-coat-clad bakers whip up endless batches of cheesecake using apparatuses like their 70 x 12-foot central oven and 500 pound-capacity mixing bowls. Tours also include information about founder Eli Schulman and how he created Eli’s
Cheesecake as well as various celebrity fans. This may not be as riveting as consuming the actual sweets, but it’s fun to learn about the time Bill Clinton solicited 32 of Eli’s bakers to come to Washington to bake a 2,000-pound cake for his second inauguration. Or the time Jay Leno visited the factory with his show and went home with a huge chocolate-chip cheesecake saying, “Jay Leno: The Big Cheese”. And in the spirit of saving the best for last — everyone gets to take home a piece of their favorite flavor of cheesecake at the end of the tour.
The fun doesn’t end when the tour does, either. Throughout the year, Eli’s offers children’s birthday parties as well as family cookie-baking classes. Owner Marc Schulman, son of Eli, said the company prides itself on constant community involvement, holding annual events such as its annual cheesecake festival held the third weekend of every September in the parking lot. Approximately 1,000 people attend every year to party with the Eli’s mascot, “The Slice,” and see acrobats spring off trampolines and sail over giant cheesecakes. “Since no one has fallen in yet, the festival continues,” Schulman said.
If you can’t get to the festival, feel free to stop by the café which serves breakfast, lunch and, of course, dessert seven days a week and even offers free wireless internet. Eli’s can be ideal for a quaint dessert or meal with a friend, child or relative, but don’t miss out on the comic relief of talking
with many of Eli’s employees who are more than willing to talk to you about their product or anything else you might (or might not) want to know. Al Panfil, 78, said he has volunteered at Eli’s for more than three years. It all began when his doctor dared him to work there, claiming he would eat all of the profits, Al says. Now, three years later, his weight has gone from 260 to 180 pounds, “But I gotta tell you, it’s been damn difficult,” Panfil said. “They make so many different types of cheesecake here it’s been hard keeping my paws off.”
Want to know more? Check the Eli’s Cheesecake blog.