WEST RIDGE — In November 1979, Janet Rosing began baking cheesecakes for Chicago restaurants and cafes, helping those businesses expand their offerings while getting her own small business off the ground.
This month, Rosing’s JR Dessert Bakery is celebrating 40 years in business, and her desserts and baked goods have become a fixture of restaurant menus across Chicago.
What started as a one-woman business selling three different types of cheesecake has now become a 20-plus person operation in a 6,000-square-foot bakery that sells hundreds of products to restaurants, cafes and other businesses across Chicago. Rosing has also brought in the second generation to the family business, with daughter Natalie Kaplan joining in 2015.
Rosing settled on a wholesale bakery operation after learning she could sell her cheesecakes to restaurants and other businesses. JR Dessert Bakery (JR being Janet Rosing’s initials) has since expanded its menu and exploded its customer base. It spawned a since-closed Lincoln Park retail location, was a mainstay at the Taste of Chicago in years’ past and, in 1986, Rosing told the Chicago Tribune she was the No. 2 supplier of cheesecakes in Chicago, behind only Eli’s.
The business supplied local Starbucks locations with baked goods during the chain’s early years in the city. Its products can be bought at Mariano’s (without a brand name attached) and enjoyed at Soldier Field and McCormick Place, not to mention a number of Chicago restaurants that are household names and tourist attractions. (Rosing and Kaplan said they could not publicly disclose those restaurant clients, some of whom prefer customers think the desserts are done in-house.)
“We want our costumers to feel we are an extension of their kitchen,” Rosing said. “We do have customers that have been here for 30-35 years.”
After starting out in a Gold Coast test kitchen, Rosing eventually opened JR Dessert Bakery in the storefront at 2841 W. Howard St., where the business has remained for 38 years. The location allowed Rosing to open a storefront shop, which has become a Howard Street fixture. Its interior looks much like it did in the early 1980s, with pastel colors and retro furniture.
JR Dessert Bakery’s quest to be zero-waste led them to a storefront product staple and neighborhood favorite. The bakery sells leftover scraps of brownies and other baked goods in bags for $1 or $2. Customers who visit the bakery can also help themselves to complimentary Metropolis Coffee, a fellow local small business.
“Retail is the cherry on top,” said Kaplan, who joined JR Dessert Bakery after moving back to Chicago from Boston in 2015. “We love having a face for the community and having people stop in.”
Behind the storefront is a large-scale baking and shipping operation. With restaurants and other clients needing new menu items quickly and in bulk, JR Dessert Bakery has to work rapidly — and have a sophisticated logistics operation. Recently, a client asked for 36 chocolate cheesecakes to be delivered the next day — an order the bakery was happy to fulfill.
“We can do high quantity, but also high quality,” Kaplan said. “We have a really good product and we have mastered how to run a really efficient business. You can only be successful if you do both.”
Though the family-owned business has been in operation from the same location for nearly 40 years, the business is constantly evolving, Rosing and Kaplan said.
That’s because the restaurant industry is always changing. More nation-wide wholesalers have got into desserts and baked goods, they said. The ever-increasing cost of being a small business in Chicago led Rosing to take more of an active role in refining the baking operation, while Kaplan took on more administrative duties.
Chicago’s status as a international culinary capital means there are more in-house pastry chefs in town. But the mother-daughter duo relish the competition as they work to keep JR Dessert Bakery a staple of Chicago’s restaurant and hospitality business for another 40 years.
“That’s another competitor, however, my mom and I love a good pastry chef,” Kaplan said.
“We appreciate quality and creativity,” Rosing said.
To learn more about JR Dessert Bakery, click here.
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