Meet the Chef: An 'InsaneLee Decadent' Story
To take a quote from an old band from Northern California...
"What a Long, Strange Trip it has been!"
If anyone had told me that I would be baking 'Cheesecakes in a Jar®' for a living back in the 70's, 80's or 90's, I would have thought that they might have had one or two drinks too many!
Growing up in New Jersey, to be specific, on 'Da Shore', I always had a thing for food. Some of my first real jobs on the Atlantic City Boardwalk involved food; making pizzas on The Steel Pier, bussing at the old Marlborough Blenheim Hotel, cooking steaks and eggs in the window at The Ranch House Restaurant and making silver dollar pancakes in the window at Nash's Beef and Beer.
My dad, L. Edison (Ed) Mathis tried to introduce me to fine foods by taking me to some truly fine restaurants and clubs; including The Vesper Club in Philadelphia, Top of the Sixes in New York City, Strotbeck's and Guishard's in Atlantic City and even to L' Ermitage out in Los Angeles, but I was more of a 'normal' food kind of guy!
There was a place in Atlantic City, Shumsky's, that produced some absolutely fabulous cheesecakes and that is one of my first memories of what would eventually become my vocation.
I ended up going away to a small college in Vermont (where I first started finding out just how flavorful and useful maple syrup could be, especially in cheesecake) but ended up out west in Northern California where I started what would turn out to be 20+ years in the newspaper industry in California, New Jersey and Colorado. It took a very serious, life-threatening medical condition that made me realize that I needed to change my life and after a few more years back in Northern California. I ended up moving to Western Colorado and eventually a small town called Palisade, home of some of the best peaches in the country!
After working a few odd jobs; including driving a cab, I realized that if I truly wanted to change my life, I really should go back to college and ended up making a phone call that changed my life.
The 'Aha Moment'
The local school here is Mesa State College and I called up to find out about their culinary program. I thought, what the hey, I have always loved to cook, why not see what else I can learn and see if I can make a living in the culinary field. The school directed me to call the head of the culinary program, Dan Kirby and when I did, he invited me to stop by the school the next day.
Now Dan did not know me from Adam, but spent over two hours talking with me and not just about food, but life, the universe and everything. (It did not hurt finding out he was a Springsteen fan too!)
Needless to say, I enrolled in the Colorado Culinary Academy at Colorado Mesa University the next day.
Now I still had no idea of where this would go, but I figured I could decide that after going through the program. No way did I know that this would pretty much be decided for me!
About two or three weeks into my first semester, I had brought in a cheesecake that I had been making for years, my Vermont Maple Cheesecake, and my chef instructor, Chef Jon St. Peter, took a few bites and asked me where he could get one. I looked at him and said... Give me 90 days!. 90 days later, Decadence was born!
Now, having gone through what I had the previous few years, I had virtually no money, but in asking around, I found out about The Business Incubator Center and their commercial kitchen, where new businesses could start out without incurring the expenses of getting one's own place.
I started baking and taking around samples to area restaurants and when I opened in November of 2004, I started with two clients; Rooster's in Clifton and Bennett's B-B-Q in Grand Junction. (As of August 2013, we now have 15 clients throughout The Grand Valley of Western Colorado and are also available in and around the Richmond, VA region and more are coming on board!) We have also been featured in the VIP Tent at the Colorado Mountain Winefest for the past seven years.
Right before Christmas 2005, I was getting ready for a road trip back to New Jersey to see family and friends for the holidays and I stopped by the culinary school. Dan Kirby (remember him?) walked up to me with an empty jar in his hand and said..."Dude (ok, he might have not said Dude), "You should put your cheesecakes in a jar!" Now I still think he was kidding, but I could not get that idea out of my head and when I got back from New Jersey, I set out to rework all of my recipes to see if you really could bake a quality gourmet cheesecake in an individual serving jar. After quite a few attempts, we actually did it.We launched the product line at the Downtown Grand Junction, Colorado Farmer's Market in June 2006 and had no idea of what people would think. We did OK in sales that first week, a lot of strange looks (until they took a bite!) but the second week, over half of our customers were repeats and within 60 days, our 'Cheesecakes in a Jar®' were our Number One selling product line! In September of 2008, we were honored to earn a Second Place in The Spirit of Innovation Awards, sponsored by Prepared Foods Magazine and Ventura Foods! (It seems that we were beaten out by some small company called Kraft Foods!) We are one of the smallest companies ever to win this award and the first Colorado company to place!
We have received media coverage everywhere, from TV, radio and newspaper coverage here in Western Colorado, to TV in Denver and NYC as well as newspapers and TV coverage in Richmond, VA and have been reviewed on blogs and websites from Coast to Coast .People still ask me why I do what I do and actually it is pretty simple..."The looks of people's faces when they take their first bite!"
The Recession hit us hard, as it did many of the small companies around the country. We lost three of our biggest wholesale clients (They went out of business), our on-line business virtually disappeared and we almost went out of business at least three times. We 'tightened our belts', took on some part-time jobs, did whatever we had to do and slowly, slowly, the recession seemed to recede.
We knew that in order to survive, we have to expand and in the Summer of 2013, we started a small expansion to the East Coast, basing a small operation in Richmond, Virginia.
From 2013 to 2014, we experienced a 75% growth rate and 2014 turned out to be the best year since before the recession.
As of August, 2014, we now offer 20 varities with 18 dessert cheesecake flavors, including three gluten-free flavors, and three Savory Craft Spreads, supplemented by our seasonals and more are on the way. In December of 2014, we also launced our newest product line, of 'shelf-stable' products, the first being our 'Colorado-Style' Southern Chow Chow.
So, thank you for the past years and we look forward to serving you in the future!
Decadence Gourmet Cheesecakes Founder & Cheesecake Chef
To my son Austin, this one's for you.
"What a Long, Strange Trip it has been!"