Wait of Success
Long Lines Reflect Fortunes of Cheesecake Factory Chain
By Sabrina Jones
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, August 4, 2002; Page H01
One Saturday night last winter, John and Heather Amos came to town
hoping for a quick dinner before catching an act at a comedy club.
But they wanted to eat at the Cheesecake Factory. That meant that after
the 40-minute drive from their home in Centreville, the Amoses collided
with the early crowd at the two-level, glass-enclosed restaurant on
Wisconsin Avenue NW. It was around 7:15 when they waded through
the bodies pressed together in the entryway to add their name to the
waiting list. They were told they might have to cool their heels for more
than two hours. They took a pager, found a spot by the first-floor bar and
grimaced between sips of Pinot Grigio. By 8:40 they were worrying that
they would lose their reservation for the 10:30 show at the Improv.
No wonder, the Amoses said, they visit the restaurant only once a year or
so. They have run into similar lines at the chain's two other area
restaurants, at White Flint Mall in Bethesda and Baltimore's Inner
"We've been here at 5 p.m., and they still tell us it's a two-hour wait,"
said Heather Amos, 34.
And yet there they were, once again.
To some, a two-hour wait may be too high a price to pay for a $6.95 slice of cheesecake. But the lines seem only to
enhance the draw of the Cheesecake Factory, which has weathered shaky economic times that have bruised some other
chain restaurants. Even without advertising, the Calabasas Hills, Calif.-based chain of 52 restaurants has developed a
phenomenally loyal following among customers from Beverly Hills to Bethesda. In fact, word of mouth precedes its
arrival in every new market.
But the restaurant's mystique doesn't seem to owe all that much to the 35 flavors of its incredibly sweet trademark
cheesecake. Nor does it have to do with America's legendary appetite, as people often surmise, given the Great Dane-siz
portions that emerge from Cheesecake Factory kitchens. Rather, it seems to be an inspired combination of decor and
what Cheesecake Factory founder David Overton once called "kicked-up coffee-shop food."
In other words, a visually interesting, even opulent, setting in tandem with food that's not intimidating.
The would-be diners waiting in those seemingly permanent lines may be interested to know that they help the typical
Cheesecake Factory ring up $11 million in sales a year. That's about $1,000 per square foot, the highest among the
nation's restaurant chains, according to Richard Papiernik, financial editor of Nation's Restaurant News, a trade
publication. That's more than three times the industry average of $254 per square foot for restaurants with average check
of $15 to $25, according to the Washington-based National Restaurant Association.
Cheesecake Factory sites are in some of the nation's best -- meaning most expensive -- restaurant locales, according to