More than 10 years ago, Dawn McGaffick stumbled upon her mom’s old Kraft Philadelphia Cream Cheese Cookbook. The Chico native decided to give the classic pumpkin cheesecake recipe a shot, and by fateful accident she doubled the amount of spice the recipe called for. A new improved product was born, setting the amateur baker on a path that would eventually lead to cheesecakes becoming her specialty and the cornerstone of a budding side business. McGaffick’s main gig has been working as service manager at Broadway Heights in downtown Chico, where she’s held various positions, including server, for 17 years. She makes the restaurant’s desserts, too (for the last 10 years), including more than 1,500 cheesecakes using a base recipe she created (all in the same bowl—one her late mother left her). Forced to reduce her hours at Broadway Heights due to the coronavirus pandemic, she started making cheesecakes on her own time to sell to her friends on Facebook. After a few false starts—baking from home and in other restaurants—McGaffick finally has landed a permanent spot, and her Dawn’s Desserts is officially up and running. Visit her online at facebook.com/Dawnscheekycheesecakes
How’s the new business going?
Well, I have landed a wonderful commercial kitchen that I’m renting. It’s managed by the owners of Unwined restaurant and it’s perfect. I am an official caterer, and so I have begun selling my desserts and delivering them to people that are ordering on Facebook. I don’t have a website or anything yet, but I did meet with a graphic designer and hopefully within the next two weeks I’ll have my logo and business cards and menus and my Facebook and everything will be synced up and lovely. I’m very excited because people are ordering.
The business has had a few false starts; How’d you end up at this spot?
I met with some people that had this wonderfully large industrial kitchen but it was very overwhelming. I kept looking around and I ran into somebody who told me to call Frank [Kennemer] at Unwined because he had a really good space. I walked in there and I just knew that was where I was supposed to make my cheesecakes. They have this unique oven … and it’s perfect for cheesecake. Most people have convection ovens and that really isn’t the best way to bake it. I was very excited. It’s so weird how it all can happen at such a strange time in our world, but people still want dessert, they really do.
What is it about your cheesecakes that people like?
I think it’s because they’re completely non-traditional. I’ve perfected the base recipe over the past 10 years. I kinda want to be the Ben & Jerry’s of cheesecakes—I just wanna mix up flavor. I can take any flavor and make you something that would blow your mind.
Do you have any coronavirus concerns? How about this summer weather?
I have really good air conditioning in my car, so it’s OK. The orders will all be boxed up and you know, professionally done. Coronavirus-proof for sure. I personally am not concerned about it. I practice all of the right safety precautions and I’m healthy. I haven’t had time to be afraid because God’s got me doing something else. I haven’t been fearful of anything through this process, which has made it really strange but easy to know it’s what I’m supposed to be doing. It truly is a miracle.
How are you adapting to the current situation?
I don’t have a timeline. I think for the near future I’m going to be operating through my Dawn’s Desserts Facebook page. For now it’s funky like me. I’m going to be creative and as different as I can be. I want to do something out of the box, and right now, let’s face it, it’s all about food delivery. People want to sit at home and click a button and have food delivered. That’s just the world we’re living in right now, so I am more than willing to do that. I don’t know what’s gonna happen from one day to the next but, you know, I’m completely consumed with doing this. Working at Broadway Heights has been amazing. It’s allowed me to raise my children without having to worry. I always knew I had a good job, and if this hadn’t have happened I’d probably still be there for the next 10 years, who knows? But this [COVID-19 pandemic] kinda forced me out of the box and I’m glad it did.
What’s the long-term plan?
I have a couple of visions. I would love to have an ice cream truck sort-of idea where I could just like drive around town and sell slices of cheesecake. I think that would be so fun and such a novelty. I would love to do that and then, you know, I think the goal would be to have a storefront, somewhere I can use my people skills because I love to make unique cheesecakes with different flavors, but I think my true gift is my ability to connect with people. That’s why I’ve been a server so long. I love people and I’m a very positive person. Thinking long-term, it would just be really nice to end up somewhere in a cute little bakery where there’s always cool music playing and beautiful art and a wonderful smell of something yummy cooking all the time.