Cheesecake Bailout

cheesecakeWhen the economy gave Marc Kantor, 34, lemons in the form of a layoff, he decided to turn them into lemonade—or, rather, into made-to-order cheesecakes. The seeds were planted in fall 2007 when Kantor, increasingly weary of his stock exchange career, found himself fantasizing about a different kind of initial public offering.

His cheesecakes received rave reviews from friends and family, and, though he lacked realistic means to give up his day job, he named his moonlight venture Anything Cheesecake, designed a Web site and talked up his creamy confections anywhere he could—at parties, on the subway, walking his dog in Prospect Park or in the line at Key Food. (Buying what appears to be the grocery store’s entire inventory of cream cheese has a way of piquing interest—“what are you making?”) Gradually Kantor accumulated a small customer base. Manhattan restaurants Piccolo Angolo and Eight Mile began ordering regularly, as did North Slope eatery Melt, and Kantor began to sense that baking it all in his one-bedroom Windsor Terrace apartment precluded expansion. To grow the business he’d need more ovens, more refrigeration. He was tempted but his investment career underscored the enormous realities of starting a business. He wasn’t ready to take the leap.

He didn’t have to; Last spring Bear Stearns gave him a push. When they began announcing layoffs, Kantor’s name was among them; the pink slip came with a rosy severance package he knew just how to spend. He now bakes about 60 cheesecakes a week, half for retail orders and half to wholesale accounts, including a Bronx-based caterer that provides eats for acts that come through Madison Square Garden and other tristate venues. Last fall, backstage crews for both Madonna and Billy Joel ordered dozens of cheesecakes.

These days Kantor can be found cruising the Village with boxes in hand, chatting up restaurant managers, encouraging them to try a slice on the spot (note to other downsizees: he seeks a sales rep). As he fine-tunes his business plan, Web site and recipes (everything from Oreo to rum raisin, all with a money-back guarantee), Kantor says he has no plans to re-enter banking. “I will never go back to an office job, to excel,” he vows. “I’ve been freed.” He says losing his job may be the best thing that ever happened to him, a sweet deal.

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