By Helena Tavares Kennedy, Contributing Writer
Opening its doors on Nov. 11, 2012, The Cheesecake Factory at Potomac Mills in Woodbridge found ready patrons in Prince William. Before the restaurant opened, local residents drove to Fairfax, Tyson’s Corner, Dulles or farther if they wanted to dine at one of the national chain’s eateries.
Customer Mike Katz of Woodbridge “was very happy when this one opened up right near my home,” he said. “I’ve had lunch here almost every day since it opened last year because I really like the food, it’s reasonably priced and the service is great. I’m very particular about my food and if something isn’t prepared the way I like it, they send it back to the kitchen to have redone. Not every place does that.”
The Prince William restaurant draws 7,000 to 10,000 customers weekly, said General Manager David Ferguson. If you are planning to take your sweetheart there for Valentine’s Day, arrive early. Seating, which numbers 225 inside and 80 on the patio, is first- come, first-serve, and the holiday joins Mother’s Day as the two busiest days of the year, Ferguson said.
“People come here for the ultimate upscale dining experience,” he said. “It’s not just the cheesecake or the food either. It’s the whole experience. We have an unbelievable atmosphere in here with great service that focuses on the customer. Our philosophy is to create an environment where absolute guest satisfaction is our highest priority.”
Serving More than 200 Menu Items
While The Cheesecake Factory lives up to its name, with more than 35 kinds of cheesecake, diners can also choose from more than 200 other menu items, including appetizers, pizzas, burgers, pastas, salads, seafood, chicken and steaks. Ferguson said that the restaurant recently added a new gluten-free menu. It also has a “SkinnyLicious®” menu, with lower-calorie meal options.
Additionally, more than 200 sauces and 20 appetizers are made on the premises from scratch every week, said Executive Kitchen Manager Andy Franklin. “We don’t have anything frozen, even the seafood, steaks, chicken. It’s all fresh and always cooked from scratch,” he said. “Our kitchen staff come into work every day at 6:30 a.m. to start prepping all the food and making everything from scratch that day.”
Ferguson said that the most popular menu items are the “Avocado Egg Rolls,” “Cajun Jambalaya Pasta,” “Chicken Madeira,” “Santa Fe Salad,” “Fresh Strawberry Cheesecake” and the “Ultimate Red Velvet Cake CheesecakeTM.” Franklin suggested that customers try the parmesan-garlic cheese bread appetizer and the “Tuscan Chicken” entrée, as those are not ordered as frequently, but are much-loved once people try them.
The “Parmesan-Garlic Cheese Bread” is a warm, artisan bread with a blended spread made from compound butter, garlic, shallots and white wine, then topped with mozzarella, parmesan and Romano cheeses and cooked in the pizza oven. It is served with a side of parmesan salsa which includes two different types of parmesan cheese and herbs such as basil and oregano, marinated in extra virgin olive oil.
The “Tuscan Chicken” entrée includes three large chicken breasts in a garlic herb marinade, with Mediterranean salsa and freshly cooked farro with steamed broccolini. The Mediterranean salsa is made with fresh oven-roasted tomatoes, capers and artichoke bottoms in garlic and red wine vinegar, with a basil oil drizzled on top.
Training for Success
Several staff members commented that one of the reasons they enjoy working at The Cheesecake Factory is because of its high level of organization and structure. David Carillo, a designated server trainer and restaurant opener, started at The Cheesecake Factory in 2006 and now works at the chain’s Woodbridge restaurant.
“This is the best in the world. The organization and preparation here is amazing,” he said. “Everyone has a certain job to do, and we all know each other’s roles so there is no confusion. We create such an organized environment here that it makes things so much easier for all of us, and it allows things to flow so smoothly.”
Dalonte Johnson has worked at the Woodbridge location since opening day and is a lead trainer for the serving staff. “It’s an intense training period. You have to memorize every item on the 200-plus items menu and take a 275-question test about every single one of them, as well as over 80 questions on service,” Johnson said. “But it’s so worth it. We see lots of return customers and you build a great connection with them.”
Building Community Connections
The Cheesecake Factory extends that connection beyond its doors, giving back to the community in a number of ways. Once a week, as part of the restaurant’s Harvest Food Donation Program, The Salvation Army picks up surplus food from the eatery, Ferguson said. Each month the food establishment also donates about $500 in gift cards to local schools, public safety departments and charities to use in fundraising raffles and silent auctions, he added.
In addition, the restaurant frequently donates food and staff time to serve meals at charitable fundraisers, Ferguson said. These include a recent event at the Occoquan VFW for the nonprofit Wounded Warrior Project®, which helps thousands of injured U.S. war veterans and provides assistance to their families.
You can even find the restaurant’s staff in the community on Thanksgiving, when they join employees of eight other area eateries of the chain to prepare and serve holiday meals at The Salvation Army homeless shelters in Washington, D.C.
Located at 2708 Potomac Mills Circle, The Cheesecake Factory opens at 11:30 a.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. Sundays and closes at 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 12:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights. Catering and to-go menu options are available. For more information, visit www.thecheesecakefactory.com or call 703-490-8155.
A nonprofit marketing director and communications consultant, Helena Tavares Kennedy enjoys freelance writing and The Cheesecake Factory’s Godiva® chocolate cheesecake. She has lived in Manassas with her husband and two children for 12 years and can be reached at [email protected]