The Reason Why the Cheesecake Factory’s Menu Is So Big

iStock/LPETTET
iStock/LPETTET

Some of our most cherished people, places, and things are turning 40 this year: Garfield, Dallas, and Space Invaders among them. Joining these beloved pieces of Americana in celebrating 40 years on the planet is The Cheesecake Factory—that delicious ode to dairy-based desserts that you’ve likely eaten at with your parents. And if there’s one thing you remember about the experience, aside from the massive amount of cheesecake on display, it's the size of The Cheesecake Factory’s menu. And by size we mean both its physical size as well as its breadth of offerings.

The restaurant’s 21-page menu lists more than 250 made-from-scratch items (85 of them chicken dishes) and clocks in at a whopping 5940 words, which is roughly a third of the length of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Pulling a muscle to lift the menu wouldn’t be totally out of the question. And while cheesecake may be the main attraction, the food offerings span the globe for their culinary inspirations. Thai lettuce wraps sit right alongside stuffed tortillas, chicken and biscuits, and Vietnamese shrimp summer rolls. There’s pizza, too. And salads and sandwiches. And dozens of varieties of cheesecake.

"At first, we really just wanted a menu that lived around the cheesecakes," The Cheesecake Factory founder/chairman/CEO David Marshall Overton told Thrillist earlier this year. "I wasn't a chef, I had no experience in the restaurant business either, and I didn't want any chef we hired to walk out on me. So, I made sure that everything we served, was something I could make myself."

Overton soon realized he had a knack for cooking. As he began to experiment with new and more complex recipes, he added them to the menu and it kept growing. And growing. And growing.

"When I ate at other restaurants during this time, I was able to take some of the more complex recipes, more expensive dishes, and bring them down to casual dining," he told Thrillist. "I'd work on new menu items with a cook, behind the line. And as we kept expanding the menu, people kept responding positively.”

Overton’s marketing strategy was basically: the more dishes, the better. If a couple was headed out to dinner and one person was craving Italian while the other wanted Mexican, they could both happily satisfy their appetites at The Cheesecake Factory. But in those early days, The Cheesecake Factory was just a one-location operation in Beverly Hills, California.

"I probably should have kept the menu slimmer,” Overton admitted. "If I knew then what I know today … I had no idea we would become a chain, and would have to recreate this menu dozens of times. We put anything we wanted to on the menu. Every June and December we added new items. And we tried to stay current, adding any food items that happened to be trending at the time, and tried to keep pace with what America wanted."

When it came time to expand, it was too late to scale things back: the legendarily large menu was a main selling point for dining out at The Cheesecake Factory. And 40 years later, it still is.

In Talk Triggers: The Complete Guide to Creating Customers with Word of Mouth, a popular guide detailing how some of the world’s best-known brands have engendered customer loyalty, Jay Baer and Daniel Lemin wrote extensively about how important The Cheesecake Factory’s back-breaking menu is to its success:

"You might think [it’s] too long, but for The Cheesecake Factory, it's just right. Why? Because the vastness of the restaurant's menu is so unusual that it compels conversation among its patrons. Menu breadth is its secret customer-acquisition weapon—it hides in plain sight, in the hands of each and every diner.

The menu at The Cheesecake Factory is a talk trigger: a built-in differentiator that creates customer conversations.

Every day consumers comment on the remarkable menu variety with a combination of bewilderment, awe, and frustration."

Even if you’ve never eaten at The Cheesecake Factory, you’ve likely heard tell of its menu—and that’s precisely the point.

"The Cheesecake Factory doesn't have to buy awareness because its menu is remarkable enough to compel patrons to tell their friends, which in turn creates new customers,” Baer and Lemin wrote. "When you commit to a talk trigger like The Cheesecake Factory menu, that difference creates conversation that clones your customers, bringing you new revenue for free." Even if you do need to strength-train to lift it.

12 Strange-But-Real Ice Cream Flavors

ipekata/iStock via Getty Images
ipekata/iStock via Getty Images

I scream, you scream, we all scream for … horse flesh ice cream? Okay, so maybe “we all" don’t. But some people do. A lot of people, in fact. Lobster, foie gras, and ghost pepper, too. Next time you’re craving an ice-cold cone, why not step out of your vanilla/chocolate comfort zone to try one of these 12 strange-but-real ice cream flavors.

1. Horse Flesh

There are two dozen attractions within Tokyo’s indoor amusement park, Namja Town, but it would be easy to spend all of your time there pondering the many out-there flavors at Ice Cream City, where Raw Horse Flesh, Cow Tongue, Salt, Yakisoba, Octopus, and Squid are among the flavors that have tickled (or strangled) visitors' taste buds.

2. Pickled Mango

As one of the country’s most decorated ice cream makers, Jeni Britton Bauer—proprietor of Ohio-based Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams—is constantly pushing the boundaries of unique treats, as evidenced by her lineup of limited edition flavors, including last summer's Pickled Mango (a cream cheese-based ice cream with a slightly spicy mango sauce made of white balsamic vinegar, white pepper, allspice, and clove) and this year's Goat Cheese With Red Cherries.

3. Corn on the Cob

Since opening Max & Mina’s in Queens, New York in 1998, brothers/owners Bruce and Mark Becker have created more than 5000 one-of-a-kind ice cream flavors, many of them adapted from their grandfather’s original recipes. Daily flavor experiments mean that the menu is ever-changing, but Corn on the Cob (a summer favorite), Horseradish, Garlic, Pizza, Lox, and Jalapeño have all made the lineup.

4. Foie Gras

New York City's OddFellows takes the "odd" in its name seriously, and has become synonymous with experimental flavors. Since opening their doors in 2013, they've concocted more than 300 different kinds of the cold stuff—including a Foie Gras varietal.

5. Pear and Blue Cheese

“Salty-sweet” is the preferred palette at Portland, Oregon-based Salt & Straw, where sugar and spice blend together nicely with flavors like Strawberry Honey Balsamic Strawberry With Cracked Pepper and Pear With Blue Cheese, a well-balanced mix of sweet Oregon Trail Bartlett Pears mixed with crumbles of Rogue Creamery's award-winning Crater Lake Blue Cheese. Yum?

6. Ghost Pepper

“Traditional” isn’t the word you’d choose to describe any of the 100 ice cream varieties at The Ice Cream Store in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. They don’t have vanilla, they have African Vanilla or Madagascar Vanilla Bean. But things only get wilder from there, and the shop’s proprietors clearly have a penchant for the spicy stuff. In addition to their Devil's Breath Carolina Reaper Pepper Ice Cream—a bright red vanilla ice cream mixed with cinnamon and a Carolina Reaper pepper mash—there's also the classic Ghost Pepper Ice Cream, which was featured in a Ripley's Believe It or Not book in 2016. Just be warned: you'll have to sign a waiver if you plan to order either flavor.

7. Bourbon and Corn Flake

You never know exactly which flavors will appear as part of the daily-changing lineup at San Francisco’s Humphry Slocombe, but they always make room for the signature Secret Breakfast. Made with bourbon and Corn Flakes, you’d better get there early if you want to try it; it sells out quickly and on a daily basis.

8. Fig and Fresh Brown Turkey

The sweet-toothed scientists at New York City’s Il Laboratorio del Gelato have never met a flavor they didn’t like—or want to turn into an ice cream. How else would one explain the popularity of their Fig & Fresh Brown Turkey gelato, a popular selection among the hundreds flavors they have created thus far. (Beet and Cucumber are just two of their other fascinating flavors.)

9. Lobster

Don’t let the “chocolate” in the title fool you: Ben & Bill’s Chocolate Emporium in Bar Harbor, Maine makes the most of The Pine Tree State’s most famous delicacy with its signature Lobster Ice Cream, a butter ice cream-based treat with fresh (again buttered) lobster folded into each bite.

10. Creole Tomato

The philosophy at New Orleans’ Creole Creamery is simple: “Eat ice cream. Be happy.” What’s not as easy is choosing from among their dozens of rotating ice creams, sorbets, sherbets and ices. But only the most daring of diners might want to swap out a sweet indulgence for something that sounds more like a salad, as it the case with the Creole Tomato.

11. Eskimo Ice Cream

If you happen to find yourself in an ice cream shop in Juneau, remember this: Eskimo ice cream—also known as Akutag—is not the same thing as an Eskimo Pie, that chocolate-covered ice cream bar you’ll find in just about any grocery store. Though the statewide delicacy has usually got enough fresh berries mixed in to satisfy one’s sweet tooth, its base is actually animal fat (reindeer, caribou, possibly even whale).

12. Cheetos

Big Gay Ice Cream started out as an experimental ice cream truck and morphed into one of New York City’s most swoon-worthy ice cream shops, where the toppings make for an inimitable indulgence. One of their most unique culinary inventions? A Cheetos-inspired cone, where vanilla and cheese ice cream is dipped in Cheetos dust.

Why Do People Get Ice Cream Headaches?

CharlieAJA, istock/getty images plus
CharlieAJA, istock/getty images plus

Reader Susann writes in to ask, "What exactly is the cause of brain freeze?"

You may know an ice cream headache by one of its other names: brain freeze, a cold-stimulus headache, or sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia ("nerve pain of the sphenopalatine ganglion"). But no matter what you call it, it hurts like hell.

Brain freeze is brought on by the speedy consumption of cold beverages or food. According to Dr. Joseph Hulihan—a principal at Paradigm Neuroscience and former associate professor in the Department of Neurology at the Temple University Health Sciences Center, ice cream is a very common cause of head pain, with about one third of a randomly selected population succumbing to ice cream headaches.

What Causes That Pain?

As far back as the late 1960s, researchers pinned the blame on the same vascular mechanisms—rapid constriction and dilation of blood vessels—that were responsible for the aura and pulsatile pain phases of migraine headaches. When something cold like ice cream touches the roof of your mouth, there is a rapid cooling of the blood vessels there, causing them to constrict. When the blood vessels warm up again, they experience rebound dilation. The dilation is sensed by pain receptors and pain signals are sent to the brain via the trigeminal nerve. This nerve (also called the fifth cranial nerve, the fifth nerve, or just V) is responsible for sensation in the face, so when the pain signals are received, the brain often interprets them as coming from the forehead and we perceive a headache.

With brain freeze, we're perceiving pain in an area of the body that's at a distance from the site of the actual injury or reception of painful stimulus. This is a quirk of the body known as referred pain, and it's the reason people often feel pain in their neck, shoulders, and/or back instead of their chest during a heart attack.

To prevent brain freeze, try the following:

• Slow down. Eating or drinking cold food slowly allows one's mouth to get used to the temperature.

• Hold cold food or drink in the front part of your mouth and allow it to warm up before swallowing.

• Head north. Brain freeze requires a warm ambient temperature to occur, so it's almost impossible for it to happen if you're already cold.

This story has been updated for 2019.

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