by Caroline Gabsewics
Cherryllean Rogers always knew she had a gift when it came to baking, but it wasn’t until six years ago that she turned that gift into a career.
She never had any formal training in the kitchen and she didn’t go to college to be a cook, but Rogers’ successful catering business is proof that not everything has to be be taught.
Before Rogers opened her own catering business called Cherry’s Cheesecakes Delights, specializing in cheesecakes, she was an English and social studies teacher in Atlanta. She always made cheesecakes for office gatherings and soon she was making cakes almost every night. In college Rogers was known as “Grandma,” because she always had a fresh cake sitting on her kitchen counter.
“What made me go full-time (with a catering business) was when I was told I was being transferred to a school that was 32 miles (away) just one way,” she said. “And sitting in traffic in the morning in Atlanta — it wasn’t worth it.”
Rogers said she was sitting in church on a Sunday morning and the message that day was “God delivers.”
“After that I quit teaching, not knowing what to do next,” she said. “Two weeks later I got a full-time catering position with the (Atlanta) Falcons.”
Rogers was the NFL team’s caterer for three years. While she was there she met many of the players who not only loved her food, but her cheesecakes, too.
“Michael Vick loved my fried chicken,” she said. “Deion Sanders is my biggest individual cheesecake customer. His favorite is strawberry.”
Rogers said that before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, Sanders would have her send cakes to him by Delta Dash. Since the terrorist attacks, it has become very expensive to Delta Dash any package, but Sanders still receives her cheesecakes through the mail.
“I took a cheesecake to (Sanders’) house before and he took the cake, grabbed a fork and started eating it right from the box,” she said. “I told him if he gets sick, it’s not from the cheesecake, but that he ate too much of it.”
Rogers opened her catering business six years ago and three years ago she moved to Jacksonville, her hometown, and has been the caterer for all of the Dillard’s Department stores in Jacksonville for the past three years. Rogers leases the St. Steven’s Academy’s kitchen on Davis Street. Rogers said there are plans to build a commons area across the street from the academy, and when that is complete, she will have a kitchen in the new building.
“It isn’t a place to walk up and get a cheesecake,” she said. “We just cook everything there.”
Rogers landed the job with the department store after she met Audrey McCauley, the assistant manager of Dillard’s at the Avenues Mall. Rogers said she told McCauley she was a caterer and their business relationship snowballed from there. Rogers caters employee luncheons and holiday events.
“They enjoy it and everyone is satisfied,” said Rogers. “In September, I started preparing a menu (for the VIP parties) to make it easy for my clients, so they know everything is taken care of.”
Recently she catered Dillard’s VIP parties and prepared hors d’oeuvres for all four locations. For events like this, assistant Gloria Jones helps her and Rogers also has contracted employees.
Rogers has many secrets to her success, but she always makes sure her customers are satisfied. Her cheesecakes are never frozen, unless they are being mailed or if she makes cheesecakes on a stick.
“I bake the cheesecakes the day my customer gets it,” she said. “If they need it early in the morning, I will bake it at 12 a.m. so it is fresh.”
Rogers will even personally deliver her cheesecakes.
“My big thing —I want my customers to be satisfied,” she said. “My customers come first and if they aren’t satisfied, I’m not happy.”
Being a full-time caterer doesn’t grant her many days off because she usually has an order every week day and most weekends, too.
“I get to meet people, make people happy and satisfy their taste buds,” said Rogers. “These things make me excited when I serve my product.”
Rogers added that she will make what her customers request, too.
“I have 12 specialty cheesecakes, and if someone requests one, I’ll do it; I never say no,” she said.
Rogers enjoys baking any type of food, but it is a perfect cheesecake that makes her happy.
“There is an art to a cheesecake,” she said. “It is all about the temperature of the cream cheese and eggs. The oven and the timer has to be set right, too.”