The kitchen is filled with popular cheesecakes, like Choco Peanut Butter and the customer favorite, Berry Berry Swirl. She spent hours in the kitchen baking cheesecakes to fund her mission trip to Guatemala with her 10th grade Spanish class. As a result, her passion for baking and an ongoing demand for her cheesecakes led to the creation of Graci’s Cheesecakes.
Grace Cook, a senior at Blue Ridge Christian School in Bridgewater, Virginia, started making specialty cheesecakes in December 2014. They ended up being a hit in the community and to this day, she’s still making cheesecakes.
“Honestly, I didn’t [see it going this far],” Grace said. “When I first started [making] cheesecakes and selling them in 2014, I was just like, ‘Yeah, I’ll just do this for a mission trip and I’ll stop,’ but afterwards, people kept ordering them. I was like, ‘Oh OK, I guess I’ll keep doing this.’”
Grace’s Spanish teacher encouraged the students to earn the money for the trip instead of asking for donations. To fund the trip, students were allowed to start a business, write letters to gain support or babysit. Since Grace already loved baking, she decided to do something that involved her passion. Grace’s mother, Paula Cook, had an idea of what Grace could do to raise money.
“She and I got to talking and I said, ‘There’s not many cheesecake places around here besides Costco. You can try to sell some and see if people would want to buy them,’” Paula said. “So it was [kind of] trying to find a little bit of a niche that wasn’t filled in the community and it happened to be kind of spot on.”
Grace has had some challenging moments, since she has a lot of school work and is involved in soccer. However, she hasn’t let that stop her from doing what she loves.
“I definitely write down everything for the cheesecakes, know what my orders are, and I am in constant communication with the customers,” Grace said. “Honestly, my mom and dad helped me so much because while I’m at school, they’ll help deliver cheesecake or they’ll be at home while someone picks the cheesecake up from my house while I’m not there.”
Last summer, Grace got the chance to bring Graci’s Cheesecakes to another part of the county. CeCe Dodd, manager of the Broadway Farmer’s Market, knew Grace was trying to fund her mission trip and offered her a spot since it was a fundraiser rather than a for-profit business.
“She would do cheesecake samples for people to try and then she would sell them as a display and she would always sell out or almost sell out,” Dodd said. “I actually had other vendors learn from her because of how fearless she was around other people.”
Grace boldly interacted with everyone who walked by her station at the farmer’s market. By doing this every Saturday, she was able to gain new skills to incorporate into her business.
“I was able to talk to people one-on-one while they were eating cheesecake,” Grace said. “Being able to build my clientele ability, build the people I know around me and who love to eat cheesecake and just being able to meet new people while having things in common with them was a good experience.”
Grace’s passion for her business is shown in everything she does. This has not only brought joy to her and her customers, but it also brought joy to her mom.
“I enjoy seeing the satisfaction that she gets out of pleasing people and creating a product that people want — it’s a win-win situation,” Paula said. “She loves people and she loves meeting new people and that’s been a joy to see her interact with lots of different kinds of people.”
Grace will be attending Christopher Newport University in the fall with a possible major in business in order to someday own a bakery. The fate of Graci’s Cheesecakes after she gets to CNU is still a work in progress.
“I’m not sure whether I’m going to put it on hold until I get back for breaks or whether I’m going to ask someone else to run it,” Grace said.
Although Grace has made a name for herself through baking cheesecakes, she still wants people to know her business is more than that. Graci’s Cheesecakes is opening her up to creating more memories.
“I want people to know that I love cheesecake, I love people, I love the Lord and that combination has been able to spur the making of Graci’s Cheesecakes,” Grace said. “I’m just a normal teenager. It’s just neat to connect with people through this way and look back and see how I’ve grown through this experience.”
Contact Talia Davis at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.