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Daughter moves smoothly into role as chief of cheesecake company her mother started.
Story by Keeley Webster
As a child, Suse Pose never imagined she would one day be running her mother's business, Original Cheesecake Pose located in an industrial park on Old Mildford Mill Road in Pikesville. From the time she was 5, Pose attended food shows at the convention hall in Baltimore with her mother, but she always wanted to be a hairdresser. She actually did work as one for a time. Then Pose's life followed a pattern similar to that of her mother's, Lois Posey Gibbons, now 73.
Both found themselves divorced in their late 30's with young children to support. As a means of support, both turned to the firm Lois Gibbons started in 1962 baking cheesecakes in her house.
Her job as a hairdresser went by the wayside. "You can starve for a year or two while you are trying to build up clientele," says Pose, who lives in the Baltimore area. "I couldn't do that, because I had a year-old boy, Todd, and 8-year old girl, Natalie."
In 1993, she took on the role of president when her mother and her husband retired and moved to Florida. That was seven years ago. Today, running the company she grew up around seems a natural fit. "I take a lot of pride in my mother's business," Pose said. "I'm the only one left to carry it on."
A Humble Beginning
When the business started, the only thing it produced was plain cheesecake. Today, the business, with over $2 million in sales in 1999, features 150 items including gourmet cakes, brownies, muffins, and 30 flavors of cheesecake. Clients include about 600 restaurants, delicatessens, and grocery stores in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Washington D.C. Among them are New Towne Diner and Lenny's Deli in Owings Mills and Joan & Gary's Original Bagel Company in Pikesville.
Bob Worgan, owner of New Towne Diner, has stocked Pose cheesecake for four years: "It's an excellent product and we've had really good success with it." Worgan says he also likes the idea of helping out another of "the little guys."
"I like to buy from family-owned businesses," says Worgan.
Like many family owned businesses, Pose Cheesecakes had a humble beginning. Lois Posey was working part-time as a waitress for Love's Restaurant in downtown Baltimore and one day, baked a cheesecake for her co-workers. The restaurant owner asked for the recipe, which she gave to her and the owner began baking the cheesecakes. The sold rapidly.
The owner told Gibbons: "I think we got the tiger by the tail." Gibbons decided to venture out on her own. "My marriage was on the rocks and I knew I needed to come up with a way to support my children," says Gibbons.
"Susie was 6, Kathy was 7, and my son, Kevin, was a year old."
The first task was to sell local restauranteurs on carrying her cheesecake.
She called Jack Meyers, who managed the Eager House Restaurant in Baltimore (which closed two years ago). She took a cheesecake to his eatery and his customers loved it. The next day, he called Gibbons.
"He said 'that's the best thing I've eaten in a while' and asked if I could bring in six more tomorrow," says Gibbons."
"He had my only pan, but I went out and bought six new pans and stayed up half the night cooking."
Production wasn't exactly speedy. She could only cook three cheesecakes at a time in her oven. They take 40 minutes to cook and had to cool for two hours in the oven, she says. She used two neighbors' ovens and bought a plastic baby tub to mix the batter in. She purchased an industrial sized Hobart mixer. By the end of the year, she had three refrigerators and four ovens in the basement of her house.
Each week, she approached a new restaurant. Within a year, she was supplying 50 restaurants with cheesecake. "I knew I had to get out of my house," says Gibbons. "I was afraid the health department would shut me down."
Got a 'tiger by the tail'
In 1971, she moved her business into a former bakery on Belvedere Avenue in Pimlico. When that location became too small in 1972, she moved to the 5400 block of Harford Road. Then in 1977, Gibbons made a move to the current location on Old Milford Mill Road.
Today, Pose products are baked in a room the size of two football fields. But Original Cheesecake Pose is still a family-run business. Only 12 people are employed including two cake decorators, a driver, a secretary, a packer, a shell maker, and two bakers.
One a recent Thursday, five of those employees baked cupcakes, decorated cakes and sliced and boxed cheesecakes. Blake-bottom brownies were baking in the oven, which has 10 5-foot long rotating steel trays. The smell of chocolate filled the air. While assistant baker Nolan Goodson monitored the oven in seciton of the bakery, Carlos Price sliced cheesecakes with a machine that placed paper between the slices as it is sliced. And cake decorator Anna Smith and her assistant, Barbara Hart, decorated cakes and boxed them for delivery.
Turning out 600 cheesecakes a week, it looks like Susan Pose still has that "tiger by the tail."
Gibbons said of her daughter, "She's hardworking and learned the business from the bottom up."
Pose says it's three things that keep her going in the business: the challenge, the satisfaction and the loyalty she feels toward her mom, whom she credits with a lot of what it takes to keep the business going.
"We both have a lot of energy."