Linda Paider turns cheesecake making into a successful business

In the middle of the pandemic, when most people had to stay home, Linda Paider of Two Rivers spent some of that time experimenting in the kitchen. She especially enjoyed trying new recipes in her Instant Pot. One of those recipes changed the course of her career.

She was looking on social media when she saw photos and rave reviews for an Instant Pot cheesecake.

“I was testing new recipes and thought, ‘That sounds good. I think I’ll try that,” she said.

What she didn’t expect was the reaction from friends. They loved the texture and the taste. That led to trying more conventional methods of making cheesecakes and testing a variety of flavors. The friends were impressed and encouraged her to continue it as a business.

At the time, Paider was working as a certified medical assistant, a job she had held for nearly a decade.

She said: “About a year and a half into the pandemic, it got to a point where I had to decide between staying at my job and quit making cheesecakes, or making cheesecakes and quitting my job. I decided to make cheesecakes.”

It was a risky proposition. Not only was the economy still struggling due to the pandemic, but she also had no experience starting a business. Despite that, she persevered. Her close friends, especially those with business experience, helped with the planning. One of the first agenda items was choosing a name.

“My friends and I were exchanging ideas and someone said, ‘How about Linda Loves Cheesecake?’ That name sounded good and stuck,” Paider said.

The next steps include the usual. She worked with her accountant to form an LLC, applying for a sales tax number, registering the business name and setting up separate bank accounts. When a boutique closed in her friend’s building, she also found a retail space.

The renovation included the addition of a commercial kitchen.

“I worked with the health department to come up with a plan and make sure everything was in compliance,” Paider said. “I started at the beginning of 2020 and the kitchen was ready in June of that year.”

In addition to cheesecake, other retail products have also been added. She had a few Door County favorites and brought items like Door County Coffee, freeze-dried cherries and cherry snack mixes. A company that made cherry salsa and barbecue sauce packaged it for her store and added her label.

“I wanted to add Door County items because Two Rivers is a small Door County and I love Door County. When I was designing the store, I contacted some of the stores I visited and decided to sell some of my personal favorites in the store,” she said.

The items are popular, but the standout is definitely the cheesecake. In 2021, sales grew as word of mouth and social media brought people in. She listened to customers, took suggestions and came up with recipes for more than 100 different types of cheesecake. About seven appear each week, on a rotating basis.

“I was still nervous about things, but things were getting better,” Paider said.

To increase sales, she turned to wholesale and began contacting some of the more exclusive restaurants asking them to sell Linda Loves Cheesecake on their dessert menu.

“I started calling restaurants, and if they were interested, I would meet with them and bring a sample platter of cheesecake to try, along with a price list,” she said. “Eventually about ten of them decided to buy it.”

The restaurants, located in northeastern Wisconsin and Door County, helped increase sales and also increased brand awareness. She plans to spend time this winter contacting more restaurants, but a recent addition to the company has expanded her work schedule.

Earlier this year, Paider decided to join the food truck crowd. She found a used trailer in Florida and made the trip there to pick it up. It was well priced and only needed to change a few things to get it into code. Steamed hot dogs were added to the menu and the trailer was named Desserts N Dogs Cruiser. She also sells shaved Hawaiian ice, edible cookie dough, cheesecake cups and frozen brownies on a stick. The slices of cheesecake are kept aside to direct customers to her store.

Her work schedule now includes baking for the store and restaurants, filling custom orders, working in the store and hitting the road with the food truck.

“I do all the ordering, washing dishes, baking, contacting restaurants and making sure deliveries happen,” Paider says. “I send invoices, market the company, update social media, decorate and take care of the administrative work. An accountant takes care of the major accounting.”

That amounts to approximately 50 hours per week. It’s not unusual to see from the online schedule that she will be at the store until 2 p.m. before leaving for a food truck appointment that will last well into the evening. The good news is that the truck far exceeded expectations.

She said: “I am overwhelmed by how well the food trailer has turned out. I’m fully booked all summer. I wanted to do the Manitowoc Farmers Market and then I signed up for some food truck rallies.”

Her efforts have been recognized, not only by increasing sales, but also by the community. Although she didn’t win at Progress Lakeshore’s annual awards breakfast last month, she was nominated for the Entrepreneurial Achievement Award.

All this makes her dream big. She would like to lease a space with a larger kitchen, increase wholesale to restaurants, add employees, complete website design, add an e-commerce site, and continue to increase custom and retail sales.

To achieve that, one of the key challenges is pricing, as the cost of ingredients continues to rise and there are limits to how much customers are willing to pay. Slices of cheesecake cost between $5.99 and $6.99, but that will likely increase in the coming month. There are cheaper options for ingredients, but quality is essential to her success.

She is working with her accountant to look for other areas where she might be able to reduce costs. As she does so, Paider will continue to work toward achieving her goals.

She said, “I’ve learned that if you really want something in life, it’s worth fighting to get what you want. You may have to work harder and many more hours than expected, but it will all pay off in the end. It feels good when people come up to me and say, “I love your cheesecake.”

Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and former district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.