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Local favorite spreads good cheesecake

Le Cheesecake, opening soon at Tyrone Square's food court, will serve as a model for franchising.

By PAUL SWIDER
Published July 5, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG - Richard Woody wants to give his family's Le Cheesecake restaurant to the world.

Le Cheesecake, at the triangular intersection of Haines Road and 16th Street, offers a variety of cheesecakes, of course, but people can also get a fresh deli sandwich, gourmet coffee or a salad. What sets the restaurant apart, Woody said, is the care that goes into making it all.

His expansion plan goes something like this: Next week the family will open a Le Cheesecake at Tyrone Square Mall's food court.

That location will offer a basic version of the bakery/deli/caterer and coffeehouse. But, he stresses, it won't be "fast food."

"Everything is made from scratch," he said. "Not everything is going to come out quick."

The Tyrone location will then serve as an example to buyers when Woody is ready to start selling franchises, likely within a year, he said.

Woody said the family has owned the business since 1989, buying it from a friend shortly after his family moved here from Ottawa, Ill.

They've tried to roll out other locations, but mall buyouts and other oddities always brought them back to St. Petersburg.

Woody, 32, said he wanted to do more than just sweets, so he adopted a full deli concept two years ago and added coffee drinks.

"A good customer for cheesecakes comes in a couple times a month," he said. "Diversification is the best way to give customers reasons to come back more often."

He said the business has been growing since then even though it hasn't advertised.

He likes to say it's word of mouth advertising, mouths that have been full of cheesecake and other Le Cheesecake treats.

Le Cheesecake makes all its own confections, including wedding cakes and wholesale cheesecakes. But it now adds Boar's Head meats for the deli except the mojo pork they roast themselves and Joffrey's Coffee. Ingredients matter, Woody said, but care and handling matter more.

"I always tell our people, 'Think of all the things that make you mad when you eat out somewhere. Now don't do that here,' " Woody said. "It takes just as much time to make something badly."

Woody's management is made easier because the eight full-timers at the main store are all family members or close friends.

He plans to hire another half dozen for the mall store but will choose among those he already trusts.

"I call them my extended family," he said. "I don't want people working for me that are just people."

Translating that ethos into a franchise might be tougher, Woody admits, but he hopes to solve it by marketing his franchises to families.

"I don't want investment groups to buy these franchises," he said of the $35,000 business opportunities that will require at least as much money in equipment to start. "People will do a better job when it's theirs."

Woody is working with Francorp., a Chicago-area firm that helps businesses create their own franchise models, and has already had interest in town, on the beach and as far away as California.

He said the franchises will be extremely open and flexible so owners can make them unique, but they will all emphasize care and quality, something he hopes to reinforce by having franchise owners help one another, a kind of superfamily.

"We don't want to say, 'Look at the manual,' " he said. "It all comes down to the people you have managing. It's nice to see the bosses digging in right beside you."

Woody is hoping that he can make creations like grilled wraps or chocolate rush into household names.

"If it all turns out right," he said, "we'll be the next Outback."

Paul Swider can be reached at 892-2271 or pswider@sptimes.com or by participating in itsyourtimes.com.