Jay’s Cheesecakes Keeps Expanding

Jay Wilson puts another couple of cheesecakes in the oven to bake. Photo courtesy of Jay’s Cheesecakes.

Jay Wilson had never baked a cheesecake in his life. As a music promoter, his life was more Black Eyed Peas and Red Hot Chili Peppers than creamed cheese, sugar, butter and the perfect crust.

But then the pandemic hit, and on March 30 of last year, a birthday he shares with Eric Clapton, Wilson decided to try something new.

“My wife, Teresa, asked me what I wanted her to make for my birthday, and I said I wanted a New York-style cheesecake, just like we used to get at the Carnegie Deli in New York,” Wilson recalls. “She found a recipe, tweaked it, added to it and made the cheesecake … My kids and I had it on my birthday and said, ‘This is better than Carnegie Deli.’”

And then, something Wilson never envisioned himself asking: “Teresa, can you teach me how to make a cheesecake? I’ve got nothing going on, and it would be a big challenge.”

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Wilson was up to the challenge, and he ended up making a cheesecake for each of the folks at Red Mountain Entertainment, where Wilson works. Word began spreading, and soon, with the help of fellow Red Mountain Entertainment employees Alex Colee, Megan Unruh and Kaitlyn Hembree, Jay’s Cheesecakes was born.

The goal? To develop a fund to help some of the behind-the-scenes folks who helped make concerts happen. Like many, they were out of work as soon as the pandemic hit.

“I can’t imagine what they’re going through,” Wilson says. “We came up with Cakes for Crew. In the first week, 29 cakes were ordered. People were pulling up in front of my house. The momentum started in our little Homewood community. We were off and running, and now we’re just crushing it. I made them for the first five months in my house, cooking six at a time. It got to a point where we couldn’t do it anymore, and we’re working out of a commercial kitchen now.”

A year later, Wilson’s cheesecake business is largely mail order – they ship across the country, to 30 states, so far  – but the cheesecakes are also available by the slice in a couple of Birmingham restaurants (Saw’s Juke Joint and The Lumbar) and, beginning March 30, cheesecakes are available at three Piggly-Wiggly locations in the Birmingham area (Homewood, Crestline and River Run).

All proceeds from Jay’s Cheesecakes go to Cakes for Crew, which is helping people in the music industry, mainly through the groups that Red Mountain already worked with. “We’re giving money to folks in $400 and $500 and $700 increments,” Wilson says. “We’re not changing anybody’s life with one check, but we’re helping them with a mortgage payment or groceries or whatever obstacle they’re facing at that moment.” To date, Cakes for Crew has given out more than $25,000.

Wilson and Red Mountain are booking concerts again now, but he hopes to keep Jay’s Cheesecakes going in some fashion — maybe part-time, maybe getting others to do it (Right now, Colee, Unruh and Hembree are doing almost all of the baking).

Wilson’s new venture has taught him a couple of things, he says.

“I’ve learned that there are so many cool people in our community,” Wilson says. “That’s number one. Number two, I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve always had a Type A personality, 100 miles-per-hour down the track. It has sort of softened me a bit. The pandemic has forced me to slow down, and the cheesecakes have forced me to think about other things that are important, like other people. You wake up thinking, ‘How can I sell another 10 cakes today to get more money in the bank account?’ That’s the best part of the whole thing – going and getting the money and getting it to people who need it.”

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