Family flavor: Duluth couple packs a punch with their jars of cheesecake

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Jul. 3—Name a flavor. Chances are, Ashley Kidd and Juann Woodard have it.

During a recent event in West Duluth, the couple behind Duluth's Cheesecake & Company listed their handmade-in-a-Mason-jar desserts to curious passersby and customers: Carrot cake, lemon meringue, key lime pie, banana pudding, strawberry and the newest: pineapple upside-down cake.

"My daughter let me try hers, my goodness," said Aubrey Amborn, who sampled the strawberry.

Amborn was delighted to see the dessert containers are small Mason jars, saying, "It's really promoting reusable and recyclable stuff."

The idea for the new Duluth business — that has been popping up at JamRock Cultural Restaurant, at local events and on Facebook — came during Kidd's pregnancy with their fifth child, Juann Jr. "I was in a lot of pain with my son. ... Sitting there, eating cheesecake, I thought that'd be a pretty cool idea to put it in a jar," she recalled.

The action of making a vision board, searching for supplies and recipes, filling the dessert jars and moving around helped with the pain.

Kidd went into labor two days after receiving her food-handler license, so the business is as old as their baby, about two months.

Growing up in a Jamaican family and living in the southern U.S., Kidd said coming up in two to three different cultures helped her excel at mixing ingredients and switching things up.

Their variety of cheesecake offerings come about organically, and are made with organic ingredients.

They wash and chop the fruit, bake the cheesecake and cake from scratch, let them cool before throwing them in the jar, then add the graham crackers or whipped cream, whatever the flavor calls for. Then, it's into the freezer. They don't follow a recipe — it's all about the layers, the balance and the portion size. "We're good about not being shy. We like a lot of cake and cheesecake," she said.

Claire Bransky of Duluth hired Kidd to cater the desserts for a friend's birthday party.

The strawberry cheesecake and S'mores cheesecake jars were something fun and new — and friendly for those with COVID-19 concerns. "It feels like a safer way to share a dessert with people," Bransky said.

She described Kidd as warm and helpful.

When they met during a Black joy community event in April: "I didn't have any cash, and I didn't have the money app that she uses. She gifted me a cheesecake, and I was able to eat it, and it was so good. ... She really, clearly cares about her clientele."

She's a really good businesswoman, organized and communicative. "Duluth is really lucky to have her and her business," Bransky added.

Kidd and Woodard were customers at JamRock Cultural Restaurant before chef and owner Tony O'Neil realized they were making dessert jars.

O'Neil decided to use his platform to promote her business — blasting her work on his Facebook page — as well as carrying Cheesecake & Company dessert jars as an in-house option.

"Everybody loves it," said O'Neil, of Superior.

O'Neil's time as a Twin Ports business owner has been a huge learning experience. He likes being generous with other up-and-comers. "It's all about support, and I want to see everybody win," he said. "It's very rare to come across people like Ashley and a few others that actually genuinely care and want to team up.

He said Kidd is a hard-working mom, and he hopes she gets everything out of the business that she wants.

"If she keeps working hard at her craft, she will excel and become a staple here in the Twin Ports," O'Neil said.

Since starting, Kidd and Woodard have upgraded their baking pans and purchased a deep freezer, which has been their best investment. They've increased their flavors from the original banana pudding and strawberry cheesecake. A grocery store run consists of five bundles of strawberries and bananas, an industrial size package of flour; no less than five cases of 12-pack Mason jars, which she's starting to buy in bulk from Michael's, Amazon and Cub Foods.

"(We) honestly both surprised each other of how good of a sales pitch we both have," Woodward said by email.

Building this business has been an exciting and humbling experience. "We never had a clue it would go so big so fast," he added.

It's a semi-full-time gig for Kidd, whose five children are really the full-time focus; and she and Woodard work together on brainstorming, tabling events and deliveries.

And, he's the primary taste-tester because she's a picky eater.

"I don't like sweets like that," she said.

Still, her favorite of their flavors is key lime pie; his is strawberry or banana pudding.

They've learned that flavors they don't care for as much will still do well. "We both don't like carrot cake ... and it's really popular. We're branching off with stuff even if we don't eat it, people love it," she said.

They're navigating supply and demand and are getting their prep down pat, opting to ready and their jars the night before an event — it makes things easier with the kids to have it done early.

They've added ice cream jars in caramel macchiato and white chocolate, Oreo, a vegan key lime pie made with non-dairy whipped cream and honey-free graham crackers.

And, they recently released a chicken teriyaki jar made with all organic ingredients and a side of wontons and soy sauce.

They're working with the entrepreneur fund on acquiring an ice cream truck to make traveling to events easier and to increase catering capabilities.

Asked ways to support them and other black-owned businesses in the Twin Ports, Woodard said to "just support. That way we feel comfortable pitching our product and being comfortable at different events."

At their West Duluth event, folks stopped by their table to eat or learn more about them.

In between customers, Kidd and Woodard grabbed kebabs from a nearby food truck.

Asked how they plan their inventory for events like this, Kidd said: "It's really just a leap of faith. That's how our whole company really goes."

Get their goods

In person:

JamRock Cultural Restaurant

1901 Tower Ave, Superior

Online:

facebook.com/Cheesecake-Company-100529912182347

At upcoming events:

What: Bienvenue Coffee Fest

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 10

Where: Duluth Depot, 506 W. Michigan St.

More info: experiencethedepot.org/coffee-fest

— — —

What: Festival by the Lake

When: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, July 24

Where: Bayfront Festival Park, 350 Harbor Dr.

More info: http://festivalbythelake.com

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