Don Worthington

Can’t hurry love or cheesecake in Rock Hill, Great Falls

Cheesecake for sale at the Cheesecake Carousel in Rock Hill.
Cheesecake for sale at the Cheesecake Carousel in Rock Hill. dworthington@heraldonline.com

As the song says, you can’t hurry love – or, apparently, cheesecake.

For Barbara Lyles of Great Falls and Vanessa Jones of Rock Hill, love and cheesecake are interchangeable.

They are passionate about their cheesecakes, and each has spent years perfecting the ideal cheesecake.

Lyles is the owner of Ida Claire Baking Co. and Jones is co-owner of Cheesecake Carousel. While you might find them up front at the counter, both are more comfortable in the kitchen, wearing the creative hats. They say there is no substitute for quality ingredients and patience. The process, they say, tells you when you are done.

Lyles, who cautions, “I’m far from a Martha Stewart,” fell in love with New York cheesecake but found its aftertaste didn’t suit her palate. She experimented for years, to the point her family was sick of eating cheesecake, to find the right taste. She developed her “Southern style” cheesecake that is creamy in texture and has a graham cracker crust.

Jones learned to make the family cheesecake recipes handed down from her aunt. She then started adding her own twists, trying various flavor combinations. She now makes about 40 different cheesecakes.

Lyles and Jones say one secret to cheesecake success is not cutting corners on the ingredients.

“It has to be natural, fresh,” Jones said. “We focus on the quality of the goods, not the price.”

Lyles handpicks the strawberries for her cheesecakes at Jordan Farms in Fort Lawn. She even makes her own vanilla extract. The “Bourbon” vanilla beans are imported from Madagascar and mixed with vodka. When the extract is used in cooking the alcohol burns away, leaving a rich vanilla flavor.

The cheesecake process can take more than an hour per cake.

And as the song “You Can’t Hurry Love” says, love – and the business of cheesecakes – “don’t come easy. It’s a game of give and take.”

In addition to seeking the ideal cheesecake, Lyles and Jones also have been trying to master the business end of cheesecakes for years.

Lyles started selling her cheesecakes at church socials and other events. She then went into the business of selling wholesale cheesecakes. With some success, the dream changed, and the Ida Claire Baking Co. opened in a Great Falls downtown storefront, selling fresh-baked goods in addition to cheesecake.

While the town has been supportive, there’s not enough local traffic to sustain the expanded concept, and Lyles now is back in the business of making wholesale cheesecake. Flavors are original – banana, key lime, strawberry, orange, chocolate, plus red velvet and pumpkin around the fall holidays.

For many years Jones operated an Internet-based cheesecake business, catering to event planners and others in the region. Last year she and her husband Kenneth opened Cheesecake Carousel on White Street in downtown Rock Hill.

A story in The Herald announced their opening, and the Joneses were not prepared for the “rush,” the Rock Hill phenomenon that happens when a new restaurant or food business opens. They were swamped, and struggled to keep cheesecake on the shelves.

“The rush taught us you have to be fully stocked, ready,” Kenneth Jones said.

The rush also taught the Joneses that they needed to have some flavors that patrons could count on every day. While Vanessa Jones likes to experiment with flavors, the daily list of cheesecake includes: strawberry, key lime, New York plain, red velvet, banana pudding, blueberry, caramel, Reese’s and cookies and cream.

Cheesecake Carousel also now sells cheesecake by the slice and has full-size cakes ready for those last-minute buyers. “We specialize in variety,” the Joneses said.

Both cheesecake makers have a small network of retailers who sell their products. Ida Claire cheesecakes are sold at Black’s Drug Store in Chester, Grinder’s restaurant in Lancaster and at the Blackstock Fish Camp in Blackstock.

Cheesecake Carousel products are sold at the Healthy Home Market locations in Plaza Midwood in Charlotte and Davidson.

The sales aspect, Lyles admits, does not come naturally.

“I can’t sell,” she said, “But there is so much of me in the cheesecake that I believe in it.”

For Vanessa Jones the satisfaction is the reaction she sees when someone tries her cheesecake for the first time. “When they bite into a cake, it’s a great feeling when you see that good reaction in them,” she said.

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066 • dworthington@heraldonline.com

More information

For information on Ida Claire Baking Co. in Great Falls call 803-385-8990. For information on Cheesecake Carousel in Rock Hill call 803-327-5700. Daily flavors available at Cheesecake Carousel are posted on Facebook at www.facebook.com/CheesecakeCarousel. The Facebook page for Ida Claire is www.facebook.com/IdaClaireBakingCompany

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