SHERIDAN — Four years ago, the idea struck Adam Folks while he walked a dog: We should open a cheesecake business. He asked his now-wife, Paige Folks, what she thought of working together on the side hobby. She expressed skepticism but recognized his passion and agreed to give it a shot.
At the time, they worked as caterers in Los Angeles and both had food backgrounds — she went to culinary school, he had worked at restaurants and as a baker and meat cutter — so the idea wasn’t entirely out of left field. Still, neither one had much experience with cheesecake. Adam chose the industry because of its potential for growth and because he hated the cakey texture of most cheesecakes and believed he could do better.
Paige came up with a name — Cheesecake Squared — and they decided to make square pieces to differentiate themselves. It seems to have worked, at least on a small scale. The business has gradually grown from an idea into a part-time home business serving 22 flavors of fresh-to-order cheesecake.
However, the past four years have included many trials and tribulations as the couple tries to transition the business from part-time passion project to full-time sustainable source of income. They have received largely positive customer feedback but struggled with getting the food to a wider number of customers.
During the first few months, most of their time involved figuring out the ideal ratios of ingredients. Adam tried countless varieties of recipes to determine the perfect flavor.
“He was like a mad scientist when we started,” Paige Folks said. “We came up with our own recipe by just experimenting so, so much.”
After Los Angeles, the couple moved to Pinedale for about a year. The first significant positive indicator occurred at Green River Rendezvous, a summer event in Pinedale, where residents enjoyed the new dessert offerings.
“It went really well from there and just kind of kept going up,” Paige Folks said.
Business has stalled a bit, though. Cheesecake Squared is a home-based business and operates under the Wyoming Food Freedom Act, which allows for the sale and consumption of homemade foods. However, the WFFA prohibits sales within commercial food establishments, meaning the Folkses can’t sell to other businesses unless they apply for several more permits and licenses.
“As soon as we get something going on the wholesale, retail side of things, I feel like that would bolster our business a lot,” Paige Folks said.
They moved to Sheridan last July and had to grow a new customer base, which took time. The couple receives phone or online orders for flavors like classic, Oreo, pumpkin and lemon cream, which customers pick up at the Folkses home on Coffeen Avenue. They also sell at larger local events like Third Thursday.
The realities of time constraints have also limited their ability for growth so far. Adam works a full-time day job at EMIT Technologies, so the hours mean his wife usually attends business meetings on her own, which is less than ideal.
They hope to be as prepared as possible when they shift to full-time work, which is why Paige Folks went back to school to study business at Sheridan College. They said the move to full-time status will occur next summer at the earliest.
The Folkses hope to get enough sales to purchase their own trailer and convert that into a food truck with a fully-operational kitchen. Currently, they make everything from scratch at their home. She generally handles marketing and orders and costs, while he usually makes the cakes. Before a big event, however, they are both in the kitchen creating the product.
They eventually want to travel with the food truck to major events around Wyoming. After that, the couple hopes to compete nationally.
“The ultimate goal is to go around the entire United States and get our name out there and be better than Cheesecake Factory,” Paige Folks said.
In the meantime, they are working on marketing and shipping costs, a constant source of frustration. Their first attempt to ship a cheesecake ended poorly, with a damaged, barely-edible cake arriving at the door.
“Shipping is one of those things for us where it’s like our Kryptonite at this point,” Adam Folks said. “We really want to do it, but we just have no idea which direction to go.”
If the Folkses figure out how to scale the business, they could be looking at a relatively untapped market. Wyoming is one of 11 states without The Cheesecake Factory. A few local restaurants offer cheesecake, but it is usually a small aspect of a larger business.
Andi’s Coffee House co-owner Annie Hendrickson said the store has considered selling cheesecake in the future but hasn’t yet because of the time and storage required.
“Cheesecake is a little more complicated,” Hendrickson said. You have to have it refrigerated for a certain amount of time.”
Adam’s idea has grown into something tangible over the years, but it has taken more effort to get to this point than they expected.
“We can’t wait to be our own boss, but it’s definitely a lot of work to run your own business,” Paige Folks said.
The Folkses have what they believe to be a quality product that people enjoy, but it is tough to make the next step into a full-fledged business. The obstacles haven’t deterred them so far, though.
“The dream is enough to make the hard work worth it,” Adam Folks said.
The road ahead to becoming a full-time cheesecake business will likely be long and full of challenges, but the couple seems determined to try.