The Cheesecake Story

by Owen Carry

(as seen in Forever Magazine)

The first time I was in a Cheesecake Factory I was in the Fifth Grade (and I always feel like I have to capitalize Fifth Grade, like how every school year (for me) was such a sentimental outfit that I had to turn it into a proper noun); like how Fifth Grade, or Sixth Grade, or Seventh Grade (for everyone) was a way to capitalize and emphasize their own timeline (how each new school year started with its own, private rituals) every year until you’ve graduated (the end of the road) and suddenly, the thematic system to categorize your life shifts into months and years; like how every New Year’s Eve is the definitive moment (you watch that clock switch to that next number) and it feels less like a worthy moment and just like another one (a hurried push into that next year (set in stone with time and dates)); and you feel that year turn (with work the next morning) rather than realizing it over the cool month of September, when you see all your friends again and feel optimism (a clear, self-prophesied optimism that solidifies itself over the course of that same old schedule (like crop rotation) when the leaves fall and whose class is whose (a matter of learned familiarity)); opposed to that first day of that New Year, in a place, like, the Cheesecake Factory, where the people in it aren’t congruent to the parents who live nearby, but are rather, just the type of people who need a job at the Cheesecake Factory). When I was 25, I had to get a job at the Cheesecake Factory.

So it’s New Year’s Eve at the Cheesecake Factory but at least it pays well. Statistically, out of all the waiting jobs in the country, the Cheesecake Factory has the best salary and the best benefits (health care, insurance, a union). So the Cheesecake Factory usually attracts employees who are independent adults, paying their bills with that money (Cheesecake Money). Everyone lives off Cheesecake Money and besides me, they’re all men in studio apartments (just a couple cul-de-sacs away) or moms with children, eating leftovers on their lunch break (in Tupperware with a spoon).

Working here, I make sure to not make the mistake I usually make (smoking weed with one of them). I hope not to get close to any of them, so that I don’t end up (like usual) feeling normal enough to smoke weed with one of them.

Regardless, I’m high at work on New Year’s Eve and I can’t believe that there are actually people here. It’s mostly families and small children (together of course). Some babies are too big for the high chair (asking for the dessert menu). A girl’s on her bare knees going upright, eating ice cream (hot fudge and vanilla (a cherry smushed inside the glass)).

Besides them, there’s a man at the bar sitting alone in between a bunch of young men. They surround him on both sides and they all look about my age. They’re all ordering drinks and watching the ball drop, smacking each other on the folds of their dress shirts (smacking as hard as the TV’s sound). Some are wearing their hats backwards while the others aren’t wearing any hats at all. They all look like they’re law school dropouts (getting drunk on Trulys over the glossy, mahogany Cheesecake Factory bar).

I’m just standing there in my apron while my co-worker (Finch (who’s an acquaintance at most)) is cleaning some glasses with the towel out his apron.

“Hey, Finch,” I point to the guy at the bar. “Did they all walk in together?”

He looked over and shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know,”  he said.

Silence and seconds passed until he stood up and walked over to the bar, going towards the guy. I thought he was going to ask him my question. Instead he just went down and grabbed his plates.

Finch went back to the kitchen (holding the plates while the cooks are all greasy with food (and the walls near the dishwasher sweat like the rest of them)) and I followed him. Finch fed them the Hobart and then he scoffed. “Melna botched my shift again. That bitch. I hope she knows what she’s doing” (we’re walking out of the kitchen). I don’t respond.

“I mean, have a little humility for chrissakes!” He continued. "The amount of times I’ve told her I need more hours and she just won’t give them to me?”

We’re leaning on the high-tops now (where no one sits) by all the wine bottles (stacked up behind us). Finch kept talking about our manager.

The conversation was starting to defrost my brain.

“Like,” he continued. “It’s not fair. Like, are you kidding me?

“What do you need them for again?” I asked. “The hours, I mean. Something about a bike?”

“Yeah man, so, I told my girlfriend I wanted a bike and she was like, ‘No way you’re getting a bike…’” He slapped his leg. “I told her, You don’t believe…”

I zoned out. “What kind of bike?”

“A Harley-Davidson,” he said. “Six speed.” He showed me pictures on his phone (different angles of the same side). They were from a Craigslist ad, taken by someone who was going to scam him (but Finch had a goatee and a neck tattoo). The bike had decals (blue flames and a purple galaxy).

He accidentally swiped too far and I saw a picture of his girlfriend. Her hair was blue (very bright) and she had an arm tattoo. “That’s Tracy,” he said, putting his phone away. “Not like you’d care”

I didn’t ask if Tracy was his girlfriend. It could have been anyone (a sister, a friend, someone he had just screen-shotted off Instagram). “She’s pretty,” I said, stretching the plastic of the conversation a little bit.

He looked away.

I stopped stretching. It gave him the time to notice something happening in the corner (the corner booth). He was the first one to notice Melna walking over to that table. They’d spilt cheese on the floor (a lot of it). Melna and Randy, dressed in all black (the same color as the walls, fading into the low ambiance) were trying to scrape and wipe all this cheese up (strange patterns and chandeliers loom over everything (squiggles and circles in the wallpaper (they cast shadows and highlights over every puckered cushion in the store-bought interior))).

The Cheesecake Factory: (constructed and jutting out of this shopping mall) it’s basically one long room in here (a sub-level) that when you stand at one end, you can see each hot lamps hovering over every brown table, reflecting light on each surface the way muddy puddles do in the sun (and down at that far end, there’s this one table now (they’ve spilt cheese on the floor (it’s melting, sticky) and it looks like its come from on top of the cheesecake, still on their table). Outside the restaurant, the weather was recently rainy. The sun had just set. You could see the moon through the clouds but the sky was more grey than black. Finch and I were by the wine bottles still, watching The Great Cheese Incident of 2018 unravel before us.


Here’s how it went down. The two people who helped clean the cheese initially were Randy and Melna (two people who had worked the Cheesecake Factory forever). Randy was notorious for getting fired at the Home Depot (just a couple nail salons down the strip mall). Legend has it, he walked over to the big handles of the Cheesecake Factory that day and asked for a job (still in his orange apron). He told me one day while we were cleaning tables that when he walked in here, they knew his name right away. “It was written on my pocket,” he said pointing to his chest. When he got his Cheesecake apron, he wrote is name in orange paint marker.

Melna was cleaning (the cheese) too. She’d been working here much longer (back and forth these floors). Her hair was grey and she was short (her hair was so long, and she was so short, that her hair almost touched her beaded bracelets). She rattled when she walked. She was the lead waitress who often greeted people at the door (hovering the mint bowl).

She wasn’t much help when it came to the cheese (barely swiping at it with a loose napkin taken from the table).

Rodrigo’s watching through the squares of kitchen shelving, shrugging over plates already made (he made the cheesecake like that (so melty that it slid off the top (onto the floor)) and the children were crying a couple booths over).

From the top of the cheesecake (as it was being brought out) the cheese from the top had been melted and fried (like a quesadilla). It slipped from the top (over (loose like a pancake)). It flopped over onto the ground (out by the corner booth (like egg yolk)), spilling and sticking to the ground like a sculpture (now pinned (solidifying, greasy)). It runs and drips, squeezed to the floor by gravity when it slips (kind of sticking) to the ground (unmoving).

The mop was brought out and used. The monster (cheese) was scraped off the floor like hot cheese (stuck to the tile, cemented in front of the family). It’s oily to the touch, brought back to the kitchen in a dustpan (meant for dry things). It’s walked passed Rodrigo (standing as it’s slid into the trash can beside him) along with the rest of the cheesecake (topless and bread-like) now by itself on the platter (headless).

Melna walked back to the table (the family).“Excuse me” she said.

They looked up at her (the parents, drinking cappuccinos).

“Sorry to bother y’all, but did you ask for your cheesecake to be grilled?”

The father wiped his face, then looked to the table. He was wearing a plaid button-up (short-sleeved and light colored) and he engaged all of the family’s members, then he looked back to Melna. “Yes,” he said. “We actually did. We asked for a Grilled Cheesecake.” The two girls smiled through their ponytails. The mom accompanied the movement, offering her own silent gesture of approval.

Melna stood (arms crossed, behind her back) holding her order pad and gripping it tightly. “Oh, well,” she said. “Would you like… Another one?

The father looked pleased. “Certainly!” He said. “Of course, you know, we’re sorry. We asked for extra cheese last time. That might have been too much, right girls?” He looked at them, as if they were being naughty. “I can see why that might have been too much.” He chuckled.

Melna wrote it down (standing on that spot where the cheese had landed (leaving a footprint in the oil (still there) like a cave drawing)) and then walked back to the kitchen.

She walked passed Randy. He mouthed an “I told you so” as she walked passed him. She widened her eyes to show disbelief, approaching Rodrigo with the order (a ripped piece of paper). She slapped it down on the metal counter in front of him. A heart was drawn (like usual) on the order ticket (barely visible between her fingers on the metal). It said, “Grilled Cheesecake. NO EXTRA,” (empty plates rattled in the kitchen when she smacked it down). “Go easy with the cheese this time,” she said.

Rodrigo moved the paper into the light to read it better (as if there could be anymore light in the fluorescent space). A cheesecake was sitting next to him. He ripped the plastic off, then picked it up with one, big spatula (it’s tall, barely staying on), pressing it on the stove (and sizzling).

Melna’s watching from the doorway. I was there too (watching) with Finch standing next to me. He nudged me. “I wonder what it tastes like,” he said.

I nodded, watching Rodrigo do a little more finessing. He flipped the whole thing over, cooking it, pressing it, making it sizzle every now and again (steam rising into the air vents, flooding the main room with melted cheese scent).

Rodrigo did the final bit, twirling the thing and putting it on the counter behind him (onto a platter). The cheese on its top (liquid and shaky, like rainwater in an upside-down frisbee (a couple drops hit the stove (they fizz))). It wobbles on the counter (the melty top). Layers and layers of solid cheesecake, already dripping (down like paint) and Melna comes in (she’s moving fast). She goes out to the corner where the family is (in the booth (in the shadows)). The spotlights shine on every table down the corridor (where everyone’s talking), all the way out to the family in the back (the Mom, the Dad, the kids just bouncing). They’re all screaming and bouncing up and shouting, “Yeah! Yeah!” They shout and shake and yell, “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” It’s almost upon them, on the table. Melna’s nervous (spilling nothing) and the family licks their lips, pulling out knives. They start to cut and carve (strings of cheese (pulling and dripping) ripping out like fondue-spaghetti (vanilla and chocolate). It spills out onto itself, onto their plates (everyone gets a proper portion).

I was watching from the kitchen (all of us). We all watch it in the booth, shrinking in the distance. Each girl, two slices. The Dad had two. The Mom enjoyed her’s, finishing it slowly, making sure to scrape the cheese as it condensed on her plate (what solidified, she brought back to her mouth).

There was one piece left on the platter coming back to the kitchen. I was looking at it. Rodrigo was looking at it too. “Have you ever grilled a cheesecake before?” I said.

He stopped looking at it (back at me). “No, never.” He reached for a knife, cutting a piece (what’s left, untouched by the family). The other chefs stopped what they were doing (all watching from different vantage points of the kitchen as Rodrigo took a small bite, making sure (as it comes in) to get some of that cheese, already melted on the plate). There was a warm spot at the center of his bite. He hummed when he hit it (kept his eyes closed). He savored it (really chewing) and he thought about it.

In a sudden movement, he was out in the foyer, where all the cheesecakes are (wrapped in plastic). He came back to the kitchen, holding one, violently ripping its plastic off as it hit the stove (so foreign on the stove-top (the tall thing)), just grilling on the heat. He grabbed some shredded cheese from the baggie, splaying it overtop. He hovered the thing (cheese bubbled underneath him). Finch and I were standing as its smell grew stronger.

Rodrigo took it off, rotating it onto the platter behind him. He carefully carved a piece (the melting cheesecake). It stuck to the blade as he pulled it out (a string of cheese, pooling into a spiral over the rest of the piece that he cut out and removed). He noticed the cheese spiral, now swirling it intentionally from his knife, having a fun with it (a decadent motion specific to him).

Rodrigo took a bite (a warm, oozing bite from the fork with cheese). It was barely put to his lips before the expression on him immediately changed. He nodded his head, some form of approval was evident (a stain on his cheek). “Oh, yeah,” he said, “Oh, fuck yeah.”

“You have to try this,” he said to Finch and I. “You both...” He trailed off.

Finch took a bite (from the same fork). His mind was set on pause (it melted between his tongue (cheeks soft and warm, as cheese (almost) ran and dripped through the gaps of his teeth)), finishing it in an instant. “Holy shit,” he said.

Rodrigo started writing things down (on a napkin). I took the fork (without hesitation) and practically went unconscious from the flavor. It’s hard to remember ecstacy (you remember the random affirmations you tell yourself in the moment like, “This is the best,” or, “Wow” (vague statements that are so bland) but the feeling doesn’t require more lifting). Finch held my hand and woke me back up (I remember that).

Melna walked into the kitchen. Rodrigo corned her. “Melna! You have to try this! You have to try this!” He moved a slice towards her face. “Melna. It’s amazing!”

She was hesitant (she knew she had to try it). She took a small bite from the fork (like a pigeon at first), then she sat with it (I think she blacked out too), chewing it. She picked up the pace, slowly rushing to a finish.

Rodrigo saw this (he knew it was real). He rushed out (walking fast) to the family in the corner booth. He wanted to talk to them (pry them), but they were already gone .

“There! There!” He said, pointing out the windows (other customers were starting at him). A blue minivan pulled out of the lot (it was them). “That’s gotta be them,” Rodrigo said. “What is that, Ontario?” Rodrigo said, squinting. “Damn it!” 

Finch was looking too (with me) out a different window in an empty booth. I wanted him to run out (out to them), run out and catch them, before they disappeared (over gas stations (make our dreams come true)), get those plate numbers (find a clue), run out to them before soccer practice tomorrow morning.

He didn’t though (and I didn’t) and we kind of just stood there (half leaning on the cushions) until Rodrigo sunk back to the kitchen. Melna and Randy were near the windows too (looking out). They were talking to each other in a hushed tone.

“I want some more of that cheesecake,” Finch said to me.

“Totally dude, me too.”


In the days that followed (night after night) Rodrigo tried to convince Melna to add the Grilled Cheesecake to the menu.

“I can’t,” she’d say. “Those menus are administered by Corporate. They’re pre-packaged, pre-made.”

Finch and I would listen in. We could hear her pacing through the door.

“And besides,” she said, holding a menu up to Rodrigo. “There’s no room in this thing anyway.” A loud thud could be heard on the table (thick and leather-bound (too many pages along a plastic spiral)).

“Well,” Rodrigo said, pointing to it on the floor. “I think, because that thing is so big, it means we actually have the most room. Think about it,” he said. “Mel, I’m serious. With so much stuff in there, we could slip anything in. Anything is believable in that menu.” He leaned towards her, almost whispering, “Think about it Mel, this could be a game-changer for us. We could be the first. We could actually stick out from,” he paused, “the rest.

She was sitting there, thinking about the rest of them (the other Cheesecake Factories). She was thinking about it. As far as Finch and I knew (and we talked about this), Melna could be part of some Secret Cheesecake Factory Death League, where her and all the other managers discussed trade secrets and planned competitions (ones where they stacked plates and organized time-tables). They met together in the cover of night (behind the freezer (in a hidden courtroom)) and if Melna could just stick out at one of those meetings, she could finally be on top of the dog pile.

That was the only excuse Finch and I had for when Melna started advertising “The Grilled Cheesecake” on posters around the restaurant. Barely Photoshopped graphics read, “Ask for extra cheese! It’s only 99¢!”

All the menus were subsequently relabeled. Each one got a scotch-tape section, underneath the “Desserts” section. As Finch took orders and I bussed tables, we kept an eye on every customer, waiting for someone to notice the update. We mouthed banter back-and-forth all day (personal communication from each other). If someone ordered it, he’d nod his head.

It wasn’t until the second day, around 9 P.M. or so, that Finch gave me the official nod. We rushed back to the kitchen, waving the ticket in Rodrigo’s face. A man was sitting with his son at the bar. The man was tapping his shoe on the bar, waiting for his grilled cheesecake to be ready.

Rodrigo’s face entered fight-or-flight mode. He hopped up and down like he was preparing for a tournament.“Did they ask for extra cheese?” He said, unwrapping the cheesecake, ready to be grilled.

“No,” we said.

He looked at the cake. He looked at us. “They won’t know the difference.” He continued to pour the most egregious amount of cheese on top the cake (for his own pleasure). The tall cheesecake was oozing (so satisfying to look at). It melted and flipped in the way Rodrigo had gotten so good at it. Layers and layers of cake (and cheese) already solidifying on the platter. “Quick!” He shouted at us.

Finch grabbed it, taking it out to the customers.

We watched it get placed in front of father. “Wow,” he said once it touched down on the bar. “I didn’t expect this much cheese.” He inspected it further, “and it’s melted. What the fuck?” He pulled a bite out with his fork (a big piece, all oozy and buttery (the cheese dripped from his fork and he noticed it)). The son is looked up at the big, bullish bite but his father was too preoccupied. Through his cheeks, we saw it in him (that instinct rising when you take that bite (Finch’s, and mine, and Rodrigo’s, and Melna’s moments we’re all evident within him). “Oh, my God,” he said.

He rushed another bite before his son got any. The boy had to get his own fork in the chaos. We watched them swallow the entire cylinder.

“Was it good?” Finch asked them as he cleared their plates.

“I’ve never had anything like it. I’ve never been this full either. Does every Cheesecake Factory do this?”

“No, sir. We’re the only one.”

The man wiped his face with his son’s hand, so distracted he didn’t even realize.

We ran upstairs to tell Melna. Finch waved the receipt in her face. “I feel young again,” he said.

I took out my phone and showed Melna a picture of the cheesecake.

“And… they ate it all? Every bite?”

“Every bite,” Finch said.

She put her glasses on, looking at my phone again. “Wow.”

“Yeah,” Rodrigo said from the doorway. “I think we’re onto something.”

Randy also came from behind Rodrigo. “I just tried it Melly. I-“ He didn’t know how to finish.

“I know,” she said. The entire room was looking towards her. “You know what?” she said. “Fuck it, we’re doing it. It’s the best Goddamn thing I’ve ever eaten. Hell, I practically wanna eat a whole bunch of it right now.”

I jumped up in excitement. I high-fived Finch, and Randy, and Rodrigo. Finch and I looked to each other and around the room, back towards Rodrigo. We all hugged. “We did it!” I screamed. “We fucking did it!”


The momentum was slow to build at first but by the end of that week, we got some returning customers, ordering it for take-out over the phone. Soon enough, others circled back too. More and more, cheesecakes were being grilled left and right. Tables were laughing as we worked around them, binging cheesecake as they melted.

Yelp reviews accumulated. One woman wrote, “Trust me,” she said, “You’d never think the extra cheese is worth it (for $2.99) but it is so good!”

Soon, every order at the restaurant became the Grilled Cheesecake. At a certain point, no one was ordering penne alla vodka or nachos (left on the counter). No crab cakes touched the friers now that cheesecakes could be grilled.

And The Cheesecake Factory was selling cheesecakes again (that’s what we used to joke in the new staff lounge, the one that Randy built for us all to chill in (Melna, Finch, Rodrigo, and I)). Spirits were high among the staff (all nestled in on a bean bag (cuddling)). We were laughing and drinking one day with two grilled cheesecakes on pizza platters before us. We got drunk on public notoriety (the publicity) from News channel cameos and social media sponsorships. There was an interview with Rodrigo and all the chefs. It aired on TV. We were all watching it and celebrating, and laughing, and cussing.

And I found myself in this new, staff lounge, on the couch, chilling and smoking (just sharing a joint) with Finch and the gang (the first time we ever smoked) and there was this melted cheesecake between us on the table (that glass table, all pocked with water and cup stains (smudges from many nights (getting dirtier))).

I took another hit of that joint and once I was high (just high enough (off that little joint)) I realized I was high (with my coworkers) and I looked around at all the stupid posters (all the faces). I took a look at a melted cheesecake on the table (dripping, running (cheese moving in and out of oil) sticking and gooey (a pizza monster, that when you touch it, it smells like urine on your hand)) and I took off my apron, balled it up, and threw it over the rotten, molten garbage solidifying on the table in front of me (like a dirty napkin over a plate).

I walked out and never again did I speak to Finch or Melna or anyone again. I never really went back to the Cheesecake Factory. Sometimes, I drive passed though. I ordered chicken alfredo one time (to-go) but I wore a hat and jacket to hide myself. I doubt they’d recognize me but if they did I’d probably mention that I was there for the Great Cheese Incident of 2018. I remember it because it was New Year’s Eve and it was also the day that everything started in regards to grilled cheesecakes.

So, you’re welcome (I guess). Now I work at a Boost Mobile. I’m trying to start over again. I don’t want to smoke weed with any of these people. I’ll just keep smoking by myself in my car before work.