Its arrival has been 10 years in the making, but next Wednesday the wait will be over. On Aug. 28, The Cheesecake Factory, the California-based casual dining restaurant — best known for its over-the-top cheesecake desserts — will open its doors in Plaza Las Américas in Hato Rey.
The 10,000 square-foot eatery — with capacity for about 400 customers inside as well as under umbrellas outside — is part of the chain’s ongoing foray into international markets, company founder and CEO David Overton told this media outlet during an interview at the restaurant Thursday.
“The reason we became interested in coming down to Puerto Rico has to do with the mall’s ownership [Empresas Fonalledas]. They have been wanting for us to come down for many years, maybe even 10 years. But we weren’t big enough and didn’t have the infrastructure to come here,” Overton said. “Now that we’re international, we have an infrastructure to operate this. Even though this is very much like the states, it’s still different.”
“We always thought this mall was great, and that we might be successful here, so now we’re here,” he said.
While he refrained from disclosing how much the company has invested in the restaurant — which features French limestone floors and decorative columns, hand painted murals, contemporary lighting and an abundance of cherry wood — a typical The Cheesecake Factory eatery entails about $6 million to establish. The Hato Rey restaurant is the company’s first full concrete structure, he said.
In terms of the menu, Overton said the restaurant will feature about 250 menu options — and more than 50 of its signature cheesecakes and desserts — the same as those offered stateside. Initially, the company will be importing most of the ingredients, but will also be buying as much local items as it can, he said.
The need to import the bulk of its menu requirements will tack on an additional operating expense, which will be reflected as an increase in the price of the dishes, by between 5 percent and 10 percent, he said.The Cheesecake Factory Founder and CEO, David Overton (Credit: © Mauricio Pascual)
‘Everybody will find their favorite’
“We have so many menu items that everybody can find their favorite. We didn’t feel that we needed to change any recipes or the taste, yet,” he said, acknowledging that because many Puerto Rico residents are familiar with The Cheesecake Factory’s gastronomic offering, they will want to be able to order what they like at the Hato Rey eatery.
In terms of business, Overton said the expectation is for the Puerto Rico restaurant to generate sales of $1,000 per square foot, much like the U.S. average.
“I think this restaurant has the chance to be among our top 10 in the company, but it remains to be seen,” said Overton, who founded The Cheesecake Factory chain in 1978 and has expanded it to 170 locations worldwide.
This projection stands despite Puerto Rico’s ongoing economic problems, which he said are present in certain stateside markets as well.
“We feel that in this area, attached to this center, we will be fine,” he said. “People will come here. We’re hoping this city accepts us because they know our brand from the states and we’re looking forward to Wednesday, when we open.”
For now, the Hato Rey location will be the only one in Puerto Rico, Overton confirmed.
“We’re not thinking about opening others at this moment. We’re going to see how we do here and then we’ll have to look at the market more closely,” he said, adding that a second The Cheesecake Factory location will not open at Empresas Fonalledas’ Ponce mall, Plaza del Caribe. “Ponce may still be a little small of a market for The Cheesecake Factory.”The 10,000 square-foot eatery can sit about 400 customers inside as well as under umbrellas outside. (Credit: © Mauricio Pascual)
The Cheesecake Factory in Hato Rey is generating 300 jobs to run the front of the house, as well as the kitchen. All of the new hires have been getting extensive training for at least the past three weeks, Overton said.
“We’re very serious about our training because it’s necessary for this concept,” he said, mentioning the extensive menu and the complexity of the selections as reasons for requiring full training from its staff.
The Cheesecake Factory of Plaza Las Américas will open at 11 a.m. Monday through Saturday, and 10 a.m. on Sundays.