Using Soy to Reach Cheesecake Lovers Across the U.S.

Featured in the July 2017 issue of our magazine.

Using Soy to Reach Cheesecake Lovers Across the U.S.

Marc Schulman is the president of The Eli’s Cheesecake Company, a 37-year-old Chicago business that has evolved from a local favorite to reaching cheesecake lovers across the U.S. The company produces 300,000 portions of cheesecake each day – in addition to other desserts like cookies, tarts and cake. In 1996, Eli’s opened Eli’s Cheesecake World, a 62,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art bakery, corporate office and dessert café on Chicago’s northwest side. As a family-owned business, Eli’s Cheesecake supports the community, Illinois farmers and small businesses in the area.

How has the way you source ingredients evolved over the years?

The focus on the source of food ingredients has become increasingly important to our customers. They want to know where the ingredients are from and moreover, how the ingredients were grown, fed or processed. The focus on ingredients permeates throughout the entire food chain, from grower and manufacturer to distributor, retailer and ultimately the consumer. We continue to source ingredients from our valued suppliers who respond to our need for the finest ingredients, high-quality standards and kosher certification.

How do soy-based ingredients play a role in creating your cheesecakes and other bakery items?

We use soy lecithin as a processing aid for releasing our cheesecakes and desserts from their pans. It reduces stickiness, allowing the product to release from the pan without tearing. We tested several processing aids and found that soy lecithin works best for our desserts. If you happen to keep non-stick cooking spray in your own cupboard, you’ll note in the ingredient listing that soy lecithin plays a key role in its effectiveness. 

Eli’s non-dairy cheesecakes are actually made with tofu from Phoenix Bean right here in Chicago. The tofu is made from non-GMO soybeans grown by Illinois farmers. Like Eli’s, Phoenix Bean owner Jenny Yang is committed to quality and makes the tofu in small batches, handcrafted daily to ensure freshness.

We also use soybean – or vegetable – oil in creating our different cake varieties, like our Old-Fashioned Triple Chocolate and Limoncello cakes.

In what other ways do you work with the Illinois agriculture community? 

Through mentorship and scholarship, we are an advocate for the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences, an urban school dedicated to preparing students for careers in agricultural pathways. In fact, the wildflower honey Eli’s uses in its Honey Almond Cheesecake is produced by the school’s students. They maintain the hives and collect and package the honey themselves. We’re proud not only to support the school by purchasing honey, but by helping integrate the students into the food business world.