Cheesecake venture expands with East Coast location

Lee Mathis has cooked up a venture in which he sells individual servings of gourmet cheesecakes packaged in jars. Mathis finally realized his goal of expanding the operation with the recent opening of a location in Virginia. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Phil Castle, The Business Times

An inventive entrepreneur who combined his passions for business and cooking to start a venture selling cheesecakes in jars expects to expand his operation with an East Coast location.

By simultaneously tapping into larger markets and lowering shipping costs, Lee Mathis believes sales from a new facility in Virginia could match sales from his Grand Junction facility in a matter of just months.

And if everything turns out as he’s planned, Mathis ultimately could further expand Decadence Gourmet Cheesecakes with additional locations in New England and California, he said.

For now, Mathis operates his East Coast facility out of a rental commercial kitchen in Henrico County near Richmond. But he said he’s looking for a place to house a facility of his own.

Mathis has ties to Virginia. His sister graduated from the University of Richmond and long has taught in the Henrico school system, he said.

But geography planned a bigger role in his decision to open an East Coast operation there, he said, with the comparatively close proximity of Washington, Baltimore and other major metropolitan areas with millions of potential customers. “It’s where the business is.”

Moreover, shipping costs from Virginia to those major markets are a third of what they are from Grand Junction, he said. While it costs $10 to $12 to ship a six pack of 3.5-ounce cheesecake servings in jars from Virginia, it costs $30 from Grand Junction.

Much like he did in promoting sales in the Grand Valley, Mathis has been offering samples of his cheesecakes at farmers’ markets, wine festivals and other events in Virginia. The response, he said, has been encouraging. “We blew ’em away.”

He’s also making connections with potential wholesale customers, including  brewpubs, gourmet food stores and restaurants.

Even as he works on building demand for his products, Mathis said he’s also working on stockpiling sufficient inventory to meet increased demand.

The opening of the Virginia location constitutes the realization of a goal Mathis said he set early on. “I should have expanded about five years ago.”

Mathis founded Decadence Gourmet Cheesecake in 2004 after an experience in a course he was taking through the culinary program at what is now Colorado Mesa University. Mathis brought in a cheesecake he’d made featuring a mapled graham cracker crust and maple walnut glaze. After one bite, his instructor wanted to know where he could buy one. Mathis figured if he could elicit that kind of response from a professional chef, he could expect similar responses from consumers.

Mathis subsequently developed a unique product he calls cheesecakes in a jar, packing all the flavor of full-sized cheesecakes into an individual serving-sized glass container.

Over the years, Mathis also has developed a variety of flavored cheesecakes featuring everything from chocolate to strawberries and even wines. In addition, he created what he calls savory cheesecakes featuring such ingredients as bacon, blue cheese and roasted garlic.

But even as Mathis expects to ramp up production in Virginia, his operation in the Grand Valley will continue unchanged, he said. “We haven’t skipped a beat.”

The business will continue to operate out of the commercial kitchen at the Business Incubator Center and maintain what’s become a popular presence at the weekly farmers’ market in downtown Grand Junction, he said.

The only difference, Mathis added, is that he’s now working with an executive chef to oversee the Grand Valley operation.

While Mathis said he’ll likely spend more time on the East Coast, he has no plans to move away from the scenic vistas and small town atmosphere he enjoys in the Grand Valley. “I’m not moving. I live in Palisade for a reason.”

One Response to "Cheesecake venture expands with East Coast location"