Can a beloved cheesecake baked in New York for six decades be just as skillfully prepared in . . . New Jersey?
Junior's - New York City's third generation of famed Brooklyn cheesecake bakers - has moved its main baking operations to Burlington City.
The company's new location at the foot of the Burlington-Bristol Bridge housed Mother's Kitchen, which produced cheesecakes for Rich's Products Corp. About a year ago, Mother's went south for a new facility in Texas.
Junior's owner Alan Rosen needed a larger bakery than the one in Queens, which produced for all the Junior's restaurants and retail. A real estate agent mentioned the facility on Burlington City's Veterans Drive, 103,000 square feet with land to lease.
"It was kismet," said Rosen, who loved going to the Brooklyn restaurant as a boy. His father, Walter, inherited the company from his own father, Harry, who started with Junior's Restaurant and bakery in Brooklyn in 1950.
"If we're going to have a great restaurant in New York, then we have to have a great cheesecake," Rosen quoted from his grandfather's successful philosophy when he hired his first baker, Eigel Peterson. "They hit upon this magical formula, and it has not changed since."
In 1996, when Harry Rosen died at 92, a New York Times obituary called Junior's "the Brooklyn institution renowned for cheesecake so rich and creamy it made tough men swoon."
The cakes - not all are cheesecakes - are in such demand that the business now includes an online service and distributes throughout the world. Rosen sells on the cable channel QVC. On Thursday, workers were prepared to ship several hundred cakes to Puerto Rico. Others are sold in South Korea, Japan, and France.
"Can you believe that?" Rosen said, admitting even he was surprised that Junior's is competing with Parisian pâtissiers. "We are going to continue making the greatest cheesecake in the world."
Word has slowly spread that Junior's is in Burlington with a retail store.
Burlington Council President David Babula said he was thrilled to have Junior's and new jobs.
"In fact, I just sampled a cheesecake that was made in Burlington," Babula said. "Oh, it was great. Oh, my gosh, it was wonderful."
A friend brought the cheesecake to Babula's family after his mother's funeral Tuesday. "My mother loved to eat very much, so she would have approved," Babula said.
So begins the relationship between South Jersey families and a family-owned company that Rosen said had 74 full-time employees, many who had worked at Mother's, and others who transferred from Queens.
Kay Mackintosh is a cashier in Junior's retail store after working 13 years at Mother's. She is quick to say Junior's cheesecakes are better.
The store has a variety of choices, as if a heaven for cheesecake lovers. They are small and large, plain, or swirls with fruit or chocolate. Some have fancy toppings that include tiramisu, strawberry chantilly, and raspberry almond. There are skyscraper layer cheesecakes, such as red velvet and chocolate mousse.
Bouncing with energy, Rosen offers a tour to journalists, photographers, and Helen Hatala, a councilwoman of 32 years who said having Junior's was a 10 on a scale of 1 to 10 "because it means so much for business."
Darleen Lavine, 57, of Browns Mills, said she heard about Junior's through a friend. On Thursday, she left with five cheesecakes.
"I want to buy one of them," she said, pointing to a chocolate layer cake on display but not yet for sale. "When! When?" she demanded to know.
"You're going to have it all," Rosen promised.
Operations in Burlington started about three months ago, with the facility now producing 10,000 cakes a day, five days a week. The Queens plant was scheduled to close Friday, as Burlington becomes the company's main facility.
Inside the bakery, Rosen greets employees by their first names. Cheesecakes going in the ovens are placed in water baths to keep the bottoms from burning. After baking, they are cooled, packaged, and stored in freezers.
Rosen said the cakes' quality had improved in Burlington because the larger facility has more space for the batter and cakes to cool, improving the cakes' texture.
Customers trickle in at the Burlington shop. In Brooklyn, lines sometimes stretch to the sidewalk, especially at holidays.
Junior's Brooklyn restaurant has maintained retro booths and a horseshoe red counter, a style Rosen is incorporating at the Burlington retail store and bakery.
The Brooklyn restaurant is where all walks of life meet. In 2013, President Obama arrived for an event during Bill de Blasio's successful campaign for mayor. Bill Clinton was there in 1992. The HBO series Sex and the City used the back room at Junior's restaurant as a scene for Carrie's marriage to Mr. Big.
The Brooklyn restaurant will remain on Flatbush Avenue, which uses the ovens there for baking.There are also a Broadway restaurant at Times Square and another in Grand Central Terminal. The company first ventured out of state with a restaurant at MGM Grand Hotel at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut.
The move to Burlington will allow expansion for the company, which Rosen said grosses about $65 million annually.
It is not all about money, he said. Rosen turned down an offer to sell the Brooklyn property to a developer for $45 million last year. "When you love something," he said, "it is not always for sale."