clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

How Chicago’s Eli’s Cheesecake Bakes 15,000 Cakes A Day

Take an inside look and a photo tour of the making of a Chicago classic

Eli's many cheesecake varieties
Eli's many cheesecake varieties
Marc Much

Eli’s Cheesecake isn’t a brand started by a hipster couple from their Brooklyn basement. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, said company President Marc Schulman, but Eli’s, he feels, is synonymous with Chicago. Schulman’s father, Eli Schulman, founded the company 76 years ago, and the company has flourished, developing new sweets and branching out to Internet sales.

Marc Schulman raves about the retention rates of his staff, as many—like VP for research and development Diana Moles—have been around for decades. They crank out 15,000 cheesecakes daily, and the retention rate and family atmosphere are important as Marc Schulman and his wife Maureen Schulman want to keep Eli’s indepedent and in Chicago.

Of course, the backbone of the company is the original cheesecake. The cakes are built on a cookie crust (versus graham cracker): "The crust makes it much more," Schulman said. "It gives it two unique textures."

In 1978, Eli Schulman unveiled his cheesecake as a signature dessert for his Streeterville restaurant. Eli’s The Place For Steak closed in 2005, but that doesn’t mean they’re out of the restaurant business. Since 1994, they’ve been operating a cafe on the Northwest Side of Chicago. Eli’s Cheesecake World houses a bakery, factory and the company’s corporate offices.

Eli's Cheesecake

The cheesecake is creamier and richer than most, and there’s a touch of sour cream, too. Many top Chicago restaurants continue to order Eli’s to round out their dessert menus. Take a look at how Eli’s makes this classic Chicago dessert below.

eli's crust Marc Much
eli's crust
Workers star their shifts late at night to make a cookie crust. The varieties range from butter to chocolate cookie. They put them in pans and store them for the morning workers.
Marc Much
Workers measure about 250 pounds of cream cheese, 70 pounds of sugar and a couple pounds of floor in giant sugar depositors. These vats will produce 150, 9-inch cheesecakes, and they produce about 150 cheesecakes.
Marc Much
After the initial mix, staff add the eggs, sour cream and Madagascar Bourbon vanilla. Overall, the compound is mixed for about 16 minutes.
Marc Much
eli's tunnel oven
The mixture then goes to Eli’s 70-foot long tunnel oven, set to about 365 degrees. The cakes bake for 48 minutes. They then rest in a spiral cooler tower and await quality checks.
Courtesy Eli’s Cheesecake
Once their ready and cooled, they’re ready for decoration or to be topped with additional flavors.
Marc Much
These cakes will get a dollop of raspberry and topped with white chocolate frosting as they roll down the assembly line.
Marc Much
eli's cheesecake
Eli’s takes great pride that their goods are hand-decorated. Decorators receive additional training for this task and they can decorate about 600 cakes an hour.
Marc Much
eli's cheesecake
A decorated product rolls down the assembly line.
Marc Much
eli's cheesecake
The cakes are now ready for slicing. This machine can slice 200 cakes per hour.
Marc Much
eli's cheesecake
The cakes are now ready for packaging and boxing.
Marc Much
eli's cheesecake
The cakes come off the line for boxing.
Marc Much

Eli's Cheesecake Bakery Cafe

6701 W Forest Preserve Ave, Chicago, IL 60634 (773) 308-7000 Visit Website

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Eater Chicago newsletter

The freshest news from the local food world