This is a republish of the original article on TuscaloosaNews.com published by
Tammy Smith is a one-woman cheesecake factory.
After operating a successful catering business for years, Smith now is focusing her attention on doing one thing – and doing it well. Her white chocolate cheesecakes are so popular that by Dec. 1 last year, she had to put a regretful message on her voicemail: She couldn’t take any more orders before Christmas.
Even the name of her company comes from her cheesecake’s reputation.
“I was down to two names: That Cheesecake by Tammy Smith or Cheesecake Bliss,” she said. “I went with the first one because of hearing people say, ’Oh, my gosh. You make that cheesecake.”
Don’t think, however, that this dessert is the only weapon in Smith’s culinary arsenal. Her catering company, which she started in 2001, handled everything from weddings to corporate events.
“For the first wedding I catered, besides my sister-in-law’s, I went to the church and used their stuff,” she said.
Her company grew so rapidly that she soon found she needed her own space and equipment.
“My husband had his business in the basement of our house,” she said. “I literally kicked him out. He built a warehouse, and I took over the basement and brought it up to health department codes.”
Smith said she learned to cook from her mother at their home in Mt. Olive, a community near Birmingham.
“My mom was boarded in an orphanage when she was a child,” she said. “The lady who ran the orphanage was not from the South, and she taught my mom about different cuisines.”
Smith and her husband, David, moved to Tuscaloosa right after they got married.
“I finished college in 1991 at the University of Alabama in elementary education,” she said.
She said she decided not to pursue a career in the classroom after the birth of her first child but continued to expand her cooking skills.
“I took cooking classes from Tiffany Maring, who lived in Mountain Brook,” Smith said. “She grew up in Vietnam. We did French, Vietnamese, Thai and Chinese cooking. I did that for 12 years.”
She also took cooking classes at Shelton State Community College, she said.
Her venture into cheesecake-making began when a family friend was getting married and wanted the groom’s cake to be a cheesecake.
“They brought me a photo of one they liked in a cake decorating book,” she said. “I made it, and it was the most disgusting thing I’d ever eaten.”
Smith set about creating a tastier version.
“I spent six months learning how to make cheesecake,” she said. “I with sheer dumb luck came up with the recipe I use now. I haven’t seen a recipe that has the exact same ingredients and instructions. That was in 1996. I baked it for family and used it sometimes in my catering business.”
For several years, Smith supplied cheesecakes to Desperados, a Tuscaloosa steakhouse. She originally was supposed to provide the restaurant with three or four cheesecakes a week.
“The first week, I delivered 20 cheesecakes,” she said. “It never slowed down from there. The last two years they were open, I sold them 1,000 cheesecakes a year.”
When Desperados closed, she wasn’t sure she wanted to work with a restaurant again, she said. That changed when Justin Holt opened Southern Ale House in the former location of Desperados.
“Justin is super nice,” Smith said. “He puts family first.”
Holt said he knew about Smith’s cheesecakes because “everybody kept talking about them.”
“As far as our desserts go, it’s a favorite,” he said. “We have people who come in just for it.
We just call it ‘Tammy Smith’s Cheesecake’ on our menu.”
Smith said her white chocolate cheesecake is “the one everybody wants.” She also makes a dark chocolate version by special order.
“The biggest compliment I get about my cheesecake is on the crust,” she said. “I have a lot of crust, which really isn’t correct.”
She sells her cheesecakes at the Tuscaloosa River Market farmers market on the first and third Saturdays of every month. She encourages customers to order them in advance and pick them up there. Orders can be placed on her website, www.thatcheesecake.com, or by calling her at 205-826-5238. The company also has a Facebook page and is on Twitter and Instagram @That_Cheesecake.
While her cheesecake business is pretty much a one-woman operation, family members sometimes pitch in by helping to box up the treats. She and her husband, David, have two children. Ruston is 24, and Rachel is a 19-year-old student at the University of Montevallo. Both graduated from Tuscaloosa County High School.
Smith said she sometimes misses her catering business.
“I did catering for the University of Alabama and for pharmaceutical reps and did a lot of weddings,” she said. “I did a wedding for 800 once. I’ll still run into people who will come up and say, ‘You did my wedding.’ That’s what you miss most about catering, that you get to be a part of something special.”
Fans of That Cheesecake might be surprised to learn that Smith’s specialty isn’t her treat of choice.
“If you put 10 desserts in front of me and one was cheesecake, I wouldn’t pick it,” she said. “I prefer European desserts. They’re not as sweet.”
Justin Holt likely is glad his customers have a different opinion.
“She’s made herself a name in the community,” he said. “She makes a heck of a cheesecake.”