NOLITA — A mother-daughter cheesecake shop in Nolita is celebrating its 40th anniversary by rolling prices back to the 1970s.
Eileen's Special Cheesecake will sell its light, creamy cheesecakes with crumbly cookie crusts for half off on Wednesday in honor of National Cheesecake Day, a promotion that reminds owner Eileen Avezzano of her attitude when she first started the business in her kitchen.
"In the beginning I didn't make much money — I just got the name out there," Avezzano said from the bustling 17 Cleveland Place shop last week. "Sometimes you have to go back to the beginning to be able to move forward."
Avezzano began selling cheesecakes in Nolita in 1976, after a couple years of making them in her home in Elmhust, Queens. Since then, she and her daughter, Holly Maloney, 40, have watched the neighborhood change around them.
"I think New York City truly was built around this place," Maloney said. "[In the 1970s] there was nothing around here. You didn't come down here unless you had to."
The idea for the cheesecake business came to Avezzano when she was a young mom struggling with the recent death of her own mother. A friendly shop owner near her home asked her to try a cheesecake he was considering selling in his store, and Avezzano shrugged him off, explaining that she only ever ate her mom's cheesecake.
But as she tried to say the word "mom," she burst into tears.
Avezanno apologized, explaining her mom had just died. The shop owner encouraged her to go home and make her mom's cheesecake recipe and bring him the cake to try the next day.
She did just that, and when he tried it, he said, "You know, Eileen, you said this is the only cheesecake you'll ever eat. Now I think it's going to be the only one I'll ever eat, too." He ordered four more from her on the spot, she said, and Eileen's Special Cheesecake was born.
"It really helped me get through a difficult time in my life," Avezzano recalled. "It helped in every way. It helped financially, emotionally — in every way that you could hope to get out of a rut.
"Cheesecake has always been very good to me," she added.
The same goes for her daughter, as well.
Continuing the "like mother, like daughter" cheesecake tradition in the family, Maloney, who previously worked in advertising, now runs the business with her mom, a move she said is just "the natural progression of where my life was always kind of meant to be."
One way Eileen's Cheesecake has succeeded is by continuing to make the cakes the same way Avezzano made them in her Queens oven decades ago.
"Eggs are still separated by hand," Maloney said. "We don't buy egg whites by the bucket."
Eileen's Cheesecake has created a new flavor each year, totaling 39 so far. Maloney's favorite is the delicately crunchy Salted Caramel, a sort of creme brulee-style cake. Avezzano loves the banana cheesecake with its chocolate cookie crust, topped with fresh banana slices and drizzled with melted chocolate.
"Maybe because I always liked banana splits," Avezzano said.
Eileen's Cheesecake, 17 Cleveland Place, is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. On Wednesday, all of shop's mini single-serve cheesecakes, which usually sell for $3.50, will be available for $1.75.