Northwestern Law School was just down the block from Eli’s the Place for Steak on Chicago Avenue. Over the years, Eli’s was a favorite lunch spot for members of the faculty and a place where its famous alumni, such as Governor James R. Thompson, Tony Valukas and Gary Starkman would meet for dinner. As Northwestern Law School celebrates its 150t Anniversary this year, it was an honor for Eli’s and Eli’s President, Marc Schulman ’79, to create a special anniversary Eli’s Cheesecake that was cut and served by Law School Dean, David Van Zandt, University President, Morton Schapiro, and Eli’s Marc Schulman.
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Northwestern Law School Celebrates its 150th Birthday with an Eli’s Cheesecake and new President Morton Schapiro
|“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.
Eli’s Cheesecake serves up sweet, sweet amusement
Holiday cooking in most families is a fiasco, especially at my house. At Christmas dinner, out of the nine people at the table, there is a vegetarian, a diabetic, a no fat/cholesterol dieter, a gourmet food aficionado, a strictly “meat ‘n’ potatoes”-eater, and a 16-year-old that still refuses to eat vegetables. Accordingly, dessert is almost out of the question. The dishes, drama and ensuing headaches in the kitchen make everyone glad these are yearly family functions.
This one-shot baking extravaganza pales in comparison to the production that occurs at The Eli’s Cheesecake Company, 6701 W. Forest Preserve Dr., every day. Eli’s makes 22,000 cheesecakes daily during the holidays and 12,000 otherwise to fill the orders of customers with different tastes and demands in all 50 states and around the world. They even hand-wash every pan. This feat is so impressive that factory tours are already booked through the summer and reservations are being made into December, says Korey Grace, who handles reception and tours at Eli’s.
Up to 1,000 guests per month take the Eli’s Cheesecake World Bakery Tours, Grace says. The numbers add up fast, as Eli’s has given tours to as many as 150 guests in a single day. The volume of visitors might stem from the fact the tour is ranked number one by Food Network’s “Top 5 Tasty Tours.”
Eli’s has tours for both large and small groups. For parties of nine or fewer, the cheesecake-decorating tour allows visitors to adorn their own cheesecake to take home after the factory tour. For parties of more than 10, there are tours like “Be a Star” that let tourists take part in the Quality Star taste test. They sample a variety of flavors and get a commemorative T-shirt to take home.
If the long reservation wait is unappealing, the “Sneak Peek” drop-in tour is given at 1 p.m. Monday through Friday, and you don’t need to book ahead. For $3, visitors are given the factory tour and get to eat a slice of cheesecake at the end. You must wear closed-toed, low-heel shoes while on the tour.
Each tour allows salivating guests to walk right through the many stages of production, during which mechanics and fun facts about cheesecake are divulged. First, though, each person must put on a hairnet then pose for a glamorous group photo that will be posted on the Eli’s Web site later in the week.
First, an introductory video highlights a 2,000-pound cheesecake Eli’s made for Bill Clinton’s second Inaugural Ball. It served 10,000 guests and took 35 hours to assemble after it traveled on a flatbed to Washington. A two-handed saw was used to cut through it. Eli’s also makes cheesecake for the Taste of Chicago every July, and a special planning team is already beginning preparation for this year.
After the video, guests are led to the kitchen, which has been bustling since 4 a.m., churning the batter to make 12 different flavors of cheesecake (along with an assortment of other cakes, cookies and cobblers). The area looks like an enormous metal playground of cooking equipment. Along with 500-pound batter bowls, there is a 24-foot spiral cooling rack – as tall as a 2-story building – that blows cold air over the cheesecakes after they’re baked. The “small” ovens can bake 2,000 pounds at a time, which, if you’re wondering, if more than enough to stock your local Starbuck’s – several times over.
The cheesecakes are Kosher and made with all-natural ingredients whose volume puts Sam’s Club to shame. Eli’s uses 2,500-pound bags of sugar, 2,000-pound containers of eggs and 50-pound blocks of cream cheese. The most expensive ingredient is pure vanilla from Madagascar, which costs $100 per gallon.
Next, visitors get a peek at the decorating room, where 35 decorators are split into two lines to hand-adorn the desserts. Depending on the design intricacy, between seven and 120 cakes can be finished per hour. Every decorator has culinary training and knows how to decorate 100 different kinds of dessert, as the rotation changes daily.
After smelling cheesecake for half an hour, guests finally get to eat a slice (picked from about five varieties pre-cut in the Dessert Cafe). Eli’s makes more than 50 varieties of cheesecake, though, ranging from Original Plain, to Tira Mi Su and Lemon Mixed Berry.
The cafe has freezers of cheesecake to purchase or ship home. There is also a section called “Sweet Imperfections,” desserts with design flaws – a crack or dent – that are discounted 50 percent. The aesthetics are a little off, but the flavor’s the same.
If you just want a piece or whole cheesecake, Eli’s Dessert Cafe is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. To book a tour, call (773) 736-3417. For more information on tours and ordering, visit www.elischeesecake.com.
Medill sophomore Deena Bustillo is a PLAY assistant editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marc Schulman to Participate in 10th Annual Manufacturing Business Conference at Northwestern University on May 11th
Expanding an Entrepreneurial Business
Panelists will discuss an entrepreneur’s options for raising the funds required to expand a small business. Expansion may be in the form of increasing production capacity for a current product or the addition of a new product. The requirements and procedures for securing funding will also be discussed.
(Gordon and Llura Gund Family Distinguished Professor of Entrepreneurship
(Director, Levy Entrepreneur Institute
Clinical Professor of Management and Finance), Kellogg School of Management
Thom Disch – Chief Executive Officer; Handi-Ramp
Vincent J. Pappalardo – Director; Houlihan Lokey Howard & Zukin
Marc S. Schulman – President; The Eli’s Cheesecake Company
Jeff Bell– Chief Executive Officer; Bolt Industries
Chicago is fortunate to be the home of a number of great universities.
Maureen and I have a bias when it comes to Northwestern as I received my JD from
NU and Maureen got her Masters in Journalism from there as well.
As a cake baker for major special events, we were honored to be part of the
150th Anniversary Celebration for NU back in 2000 when we created a 600 lb.
purple and white cheesecake as the official 150th birthday cake for NU.
This year the cakes were a bit smaller, but certainly no less significant, as
we helped NU Law School celebrate its Reunion Weekend.