How to have your cake and eat it too
By Rajitha Sivakumaran and Jacquelin Bhandari
If you’ve eaten at any restaurant lately, you will be hard-pressed to miss the cheesecake on the dessert menu. Cheesecake can come with so many blends, toppings and crusts and combinations, but back in the 1970s, when Carole Ogus started Carole’s Cheesecake Company, a cheesecake was the sum of its cherry topping and graham cracker crust.
Baking was never a career goal for Carole. She was a loving mother and wife and was a dedicated school teacher. But baking was a passion, and over time this passion would take her from the classroom to discover a delicious world of entrepreneurship in the food industry.
Carole Ogus: The cake lady
Carole Ogus already had a reputation for being “the cake lady” among her friends. Her cheesecake was often the piece de resistance at parties. Even if she was going for a visit, she was always equipped with a cake and good company.
“I’ve had no actual training. I just started doing it for the love of it,” said Carole.
The idea of a starting a business began one fateful day in 1972. What started out as a get-together with the ladies quickly escalated into a business proposal. One of her more enthusiastic guests offered to be Ogus’s first customer.
“When I started doing this, I never thought in my wildest dreams that I’d be where I am today,” Ogus said. “I just did what I did, and what I loved.”
Her husband, Michael Ogus, was the designer and architect of the Canadian Bank of Commerce Building at the northwest corner of Bloor and Yonge streets in Toronto. The two restaurants in this building are where Carole’s Cheesecake Company delivered their first bulk order of cheesecakes.
The 1970s were a time when most menus in Toronto offered a dolefully limited variety of desserts, littered with preservatives and stabilizers. Restaurants wanted cakes they could freeze and unfortunately for the classic cheesecake, a real graham cracker crust does not freeze well.
So in an effort to continue using quality ingredients and meet the needs of her customers Carole invented the Topless, Bottomless Cheesecake. Anything extra — chocolate cream, almonds, lemon meringue, or strawberry — was embedded into the cheesecake itself. What seemed odd at the time, would quickly become common practice in the baking world.
“Before I knew it I was getting calls from all kinds of places.”
Carole soon moved into chocolate cake, with a little help from her sister’s recipe. In 1980, Ogus emerged with a signature carrot cake topped with a cream cheese topping — yet another pioneering move for Carole in baking.
“People thought it was a health cake because it was made with carrots,” said Carole. “Soon we were selling just as many carrot cakes as we were cheesecakes.”
Despite the lack of formal training in business and the culinary arts, Ogus’s company has been successfully operational for over four decades. Throughout the ‘80s Carole’s Cheesecake Company also grew into 19 cafe franchises all over Ontario. Carole’s husband, Michael, soon left his architectural practice to help his wife keep up with her burgeoning business.
“We work pretty well together. I do my thing, he does his thing,” Ogus said. “He’s the numbers guy and I’m the people person.”
At the end of the 1980s Carole’s Cheesecake Company moved to their current location — a larger facility that allowed the Ogus couple to meet increased market demands.
“There’s nothing like working in a family-owned business — it’s comfortable, it’s easier,” says Carole.
With a Safe Quality Food (SQF) rating of excellence and certification by the Global Food Safety Initiative, Carole’s Cheesecake Company is not just committed to tasty desserts — food safety and clean production are core values. The goods are even halal-certified. In the 44 years in operation, not one single item has been recalled, Carole says proudly.
“We are serious about the product that goes out, not just clean floors,” she says. “We make sure that all of the employees are well enough to handle the food products that are going out.”
Presently involved solely in semi-automated wholesale production, many aspects of the production still involve manual workmanship. This keeps Carole’s Cheesecake Company unique. “Mass production and assembly lines? That’s not who I am,” Ogus says.
Carole and Mike have remained at the helm of their delicious, trend-setting empire for 44 years, but most of Carole’s employees have been with the company for 20 years.
“The employees take pride in what they do as if it were their company” Ogus says. “They’re happy, we’re happy, and the product is done well,” Ogus added.
The art of making a cheesecake entails quality ingredients, perfect oven temperature and a dash of patience. In response to the low dollar, by using powdered and imitation eggs, for example, many businesses have managed to save money. But Carole is repelled by the idea of “saving money” if it means that she would have to compromise the quality of the ingredients — and, by extension, the final product.
An unexpected invitation
“I’ve had many interesting experiences with people over cake,” Ogus said. “Cake somehow just puts people together. People love cake.”
By chance, Carole and her husband were invited to the opening of the Louis Vuitton’s flagship store in Toronto. It was widely known that Benoit Louis Vuitton, great grandson of Louis Vuitton, would be there. So Carole did what she did best — bring cake.
What she brought was her masterpiece “Red Diamonds and Pearls cake”. The layered cake consists of layers of red velvet cake upon layers of cheesecake, and is topped with a cream cheese icing. The cake was also featured on an episode of Breakfast Television in 2011.
“We had such a lovely conversation,” says Carole about Benoit Louis Vuitton. “He just jumped into that cake and he loved it, and invited us to Paris to have coffee with them, anytime.”
Despite having left her teaching profession a long time ago, Ogus continues to make guest appearances on television and radio to share her many experiences. Additionally, she has also conducted lectures on entrepreneurship at both the University of Toronto and York University.
“It’s so gratifying to make something that you know somebody else is going to enjoy — that gives me a lot of pleasure,” Ogus said.
Future trends and prospects
The future looks lavish for Carole’s Cheesecake Company, filled with collaborations with industry giants and foreign partners. The company has commenced projects with popular chocolate brands — Hershey’s, Skor, Reese’s and Oh! Henry — so that clients can now enjoy the chocolates they love with their cheesecake.
A hotel chain out of Venice, Italy has recently recruited the company to spread the joys of cake amongst gelato-loving Italians, and Ogus is very excited by such a prospect. But even with the massive outpouring of love and rapid business growth, Carole is happy to retain her reputation as “the cake lady.” For more information on Carole’s Cheesecake Company, visit