Cheesecake. There are many varieties of this decadent dessert, but according to local connoisseurs, the best is made in Burlington County at Mother's Kitchen.

Creating cheesecakes and other desserts from old family recipes, Al Nicolosi founded the family-run business in 1971.

Walk through the doors of Mother's Kitchen, at the foot of the Burlington-Bristol Bridge, and a sweet aroma saturates the air while friendly smiles greet you. Even though the factory may not look like your typical mother's kitchen, the care in preparation and attention to detail here are just like at Mom's.

Massive blocks of cream cheese, stacked in the center of the factory, are transformed by huge machines into creamy filling using the Nicolosi family recipe. The crust, made from graham crackers, is pressed firmly into pans, and filled with the famous smooth center.

Then they are baked just like mother used to. The cakes are placed in two inches of water while they are run on a conveyor belt through the oven. This traditional method of "wet baking" keeps the cakes moist.

Mother's Kitchen is proud of the creamy, delightfully smooth taste of its cheesecakes, and was awarded the American Institute of Baking's highest award for four consecutive years, from 2003 through 2006.

Since its small-bakery start, Mother's Kitchen has grown into a 105,000-square-foot facility, still located in Burlington City. It was acquired by Rich's Products Corp. in 2003, and now supplies retail stores, restaurants, and major food distributors with more than 40,000 cheesecakes per day.

But the desserts were not the primary factor in the company's success; it was the packaging. Mother's Kitchen's idea of pre-cutting the cakes, separating each slice with a thin piece of wax paper, took the food service by storm in 1971.

"Al was the first in the business to come up with the idea of portion control," said Bob Vidovich, plant manager at Mother's Kitchen and an employee since 1983. "They were the first to pre-cut their cheesecake and desserts for the food service industry, making it easier for the food servers. This is what made the business successful and it just took off from there."

Mother's now has a full line of pre-cut desserts and in 2002 it introduced a line of pre-cut gourmet layer cakes.

Since it was acquired by Rich's, Mother's Kitchen cakes are sold under additional names now, but the taste is distinctive.

"The acquisition of Mother's Kitchen Inc. by Rich Products is very good for the company, its employees and the Burlington community," said Don A. Butte, president of Mother's Kitchen. "This is an important milestone in the continued growth of the Mother's brand in the marketplace. The cultures and goals of the two companies are quite similar and we anticipate continued growth, improved stability, and overall little change."

"We find this to be a very exciting time in the history of Mother's Kitchen," said Steven J. Shaw, vice president, marketing and sales.

Instead of transforming the company into a complete corporate operation, Rich's kept Mother's Kitchen's small-town image.

Even though Mother's Kitchen grosses more than $75 million annually, it maintains the foundation upon which the company was built - family - and follows its original motto: "We take care of you like family."

Mother's Kitchen

What: Mother's Kitchen Outlet sells discounted desserts.

Where: 499 Veterans Dr., Burlington.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tue-Fri.

On the Web: www.motherskitchen.com.

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