INDIANAPOLIS — Cassandra Smith-Johnson says she didn't choose the cheesecake business — the cheesecake business chose her.
"'The Cheesecake Lady' kind of began out of the blue," Smith-Johnson told WRTV.
Smith-Johnson was scrolling on Facebook in December 2020 when she saw a post from someone in Indianapolis asking if anyone could make them a banana pudding cheesecake. At first, Smith-Johnson said she scrolled right past the post. Then, a couple of hours later, she saw no one had commented under the status.
"So, I inboxed, and I'm like 'I can make you one. When do you need it?'" I made it for him, and I posted a picture of it — and that's where it came from. Like, a ton of other people started asking me, 'oh my gosh, I want that. Can you make me this?'"
Folks from around the city were wanting cheesecakes for weddings, funerals, birthdays, and, most often, just for themselves.
An opportunity presented itself, and the self-described serial entrepreneur took it.
"I was already, you know, gainfully employed. And, like I said, The Cheesecake Lady just kind of found me, and it was an additional source of income," Smith-Johnson said.
At some point within the last year, you may have seen someone in your Indianapolis circle posted with a cheesecake and a pink sign that reads 'The Cheesecake Lady.' Or maybe even The Cheesecake Lady's most popular items, the "Cheesecake Cup" and "Cheesecake Bites."
Smith-Johnson's no-bake cheesecakes can be ordered for pickup or delivery anywhere in Marion County. She says she's even made deliveries to people at The Cheesecake Factory.
"I don't love baked cheesecake. They're a little too rich for me," Smith-Johnson said. "Everyone always raves about how light and airy mine are, so I would say that's what sets [my cheesecakes] apart."
It wasn't all peaches and cream for Smith-Johnson during her first year. She says she went through a bit of a learning curve in August.
"I initially missed a lot of steps with the health department."
Smith-Johnson had never been in the restaurant industry before buying her first storefront. "There were just some things I didn't know that I had to do."
According to Smith-Johnson, the Marion County Public Health Department shut The Cheesecake Lady down for not being in compliance with certain health codes concerning equipment and set up. Then the MCPHD reached out to Smith-Johnson and helped lay out exactly what she needed to do to become a fully licensed brick-and-mortar.
She was discouraged at first, feeling as though she wasn't ready for her own storefront, but the health department pointed her toward a shared kitchen to continue her business legally.
Now, Smith-Johnson is rockin' and rollin' at "Indy's Kitchen," on the near north side of Indy. It's a shared kitchen and storage facility for small local businesses.
Indy's Kitchen has over 50 local businesses that work in their facility. They range from food trucks to delivery-only restaurants.
"So convenient, pretty flexible, as far as availability when I need to get in here, and it's affordable," Smith-Johnson said.
Smith-Johnson has enjoyed her first year in business, despite the rollercoaster it's put her on, but she's learned a lot. Plus, she says, she's having fun.
The Cheesecake Lady plans to have a bake-off in March, with proceeds going toward "Biketeenth Indy." A Juneteenth event Smith-Johnson co-founded as a healthy celebration option in honor of the holiday, on June 19.
"I just like having fun with it! That's why I'm doing the bake-off too; it's something extra. I like engaging with customers, with the community," Smith-Johnson said.
To learn more about The Cheesecake Lady, her bake-off, and make an order for delivery or pickup, visit thecheesecakeladyindy.com.
WRTV Digital Reporter Shakkira Harris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow her on Twitter, @shakkirasays.