Peter Rizos, the gifted baker behind the creamy, luxurious San Francisco Cheesecakes actually grew up with the standard 60’s recipe of graham cracker crust, simple cream cheese filing, and canned cherry pie topping. “When my mother made those for parties, if there were any left over, my brother and I would raid the fridge and plow through them,” Peter laughs.
“To our large East Coast Greek family, food was central. There were always big family dinners, with lots of food. As a kid, I especially loved cookies and desserts.”
Now, it’s a different coast and a very different (cheesecake) story. The San Francisco Cheesecake website credits San Franciscans with being sophisticated and unusual, and indeed, that’s true. So, of course, the perfect cheesecake for these California connoisseurs is San Francisco Cheesecake.
Peter began his culinary career by running a restaurant in the hip North Beach area of San Francisco. He also had big parties in his house in the Castro district. “If you heard about the party, that was a good enough reason to show up.” So he was cooking – and experimenting -- a lot. A casual conversation at a bar after work one night led to his trying his hand at cheesecakes.
“I found a recipe I liked and then I would change this and that and see how it came out. My brother was working at Far West Fungi in the Ferry Building, and he introduced me to Candycap Mushrooms which made an outrageously good cheesecake. Wild huckleberries were another early flavor. I even made a chanterelle, apricot, brandy cheesecake. Every filling had a different crust. Some flavors were a little eccentric, but they all tasted great.”
“Restaurants started to order my cheesecakes, and business was getting better and better. But I was still managing a restaurant at the same time. When I got engaged, my boss at the restaurant sort-of-jokingly told me I had to decide, pick two, the restaurant, the cheesecakes, or getting married. I decided to stay at the restaurant and get married. Both were good choices.”
Even though Peter wasn’t actively pursuing his cheesecake business for a couple of years, customers kept pursuing him. And, of course, he made the food -- including cheesecakes -- for his wedding in Stinson Beach. Friends and connections he had in the San Francisco food scene knew how good his cheesecakes were and how imaginative the flavors were, and they asked him to make special ones for their restaurants or catering gigs.
“A friend of mine who was a North Beach bartender asked me to make an absinthe cheesecake. He was doing an event with Southern Wine and Spirits, and they gave each bartender a different spirit to design a drink. His was absinthe. I told him to tell me the drink he created and I would create a cheesecake to match. In fact, the crust was so good, I modified it to make cookies at the holidays!”
Making that absinthe cake put the wheels in motion. It was time to leave the restaurant business and focus on San Francisco Cheesecake Company. Peter still does special cakes for distilleries and wineries, but his primary customers are stores and restaurants in and around San Francisco.
“It’s fun to create new flavors, especially with other local vendors, and I’m proud of the ingredients we use to make our cheesecakes. They hit a ‘sweet spot’ with our customers.”