Let Them Eat Cheesecake

Alan Rosen, third-generation owner of Junior’s, keeps his grandfather’s and father’s legacy and original recipe alive

| 19 Dec 2022 | 10:20

Alan Rosen’s earliest memories of Junior’s Restaurant & Bakery are being behind the bakery counter at their original Brooklyn location. “I remember bussing the counter, you know the horseshoe-shaped counter, with the bus box against my thighs gathering up coffee cups, etcetera,” he recalled. He also remembers separating doilies that would go underneath each of their famed cheesecakes.

The brand’s iconic cheesecake recipe was partly created by his grandfather, Harry, in 1950. It withstood the taste test of time and lives on today in their now four locations — the flagship on Flatbush Avenue, West 45th, West 49th and in Foxwoods Resort Casino — and the close to 4 or 5 million cakes they ship out yearly to restaurants, supermarkets, online customers and even LaGuardia Airport.

On a typical day for the Great Neck, Long Island native-turned Westchester resident, he can be found stopping at their bakery in South Jersey or their Brooklyn location and then visiting his Manhattan restaurants, where he orders the brisket melt, a hero filled with sauteed peppers, onions and melted mozzarella. And if he’s taking some dessert home to bring to friends, he’ll opt for the Devil’s Food cheesecake, which is a plain cheesecake inside of a chocolate layer cake.

Bestsellers are still the New York-style original as well as their strawberry cheesecake, and menu items like burgers, corned beef, pastrami and Reuben sandwiches. As for the clientele, notable names from the White House and Gracie Mansion have been through their doors. “Clinton, Obama, you name the mayor, every sitting mayor has been there,” Rosen, 53, said.

His future aspirations are to open another eatery, hopefully in Las Vegas, and not change the recipe that has been working for over 70 years. That includes banning a low-fat version of the storied New York dessert. “What’s the point?” he explained. “If you’re gonna have a cheesecake, you might as well have a cheesecake.”

Explain how your grandfather came up with the cheesecake recipe.

The truth is, he said, “If we’re gonna be a great restaurant in New York, we have to have great cheesecake.” And he went around New York tasting and testing different cheesecakes. He would go buy something from here and from there and come back to the restaurant and go up to the bakery and do experiments with his first baker, Eigel Peterson, and they liked the consistency of this, the crust of this and they just hit upon a formula and literally it has not changed.

What are your earliest memories of the business?

When I was four or five years old, if I wanted to see my dad [Walter Rosen], I would go to work. He would knock on my door, I would get dressed in seconds or it seemed like seconds, probably seemed like forever to him. My earliest memories are standing behind the bakery counter in Brooklyn with Camille [Russo], who I worked with as a grownup. And every cake had to be on top of one of those frilly type of doilies. That was like a rule. So I, with my little fingers, would separate doilies. I remember walking through the kitchens with my dad. I remember breaking stuff too and crying ‘cause I thought he was gonna be pissed. And then having him come over and say it was okay.

I know there are no typical days, but what’s a day like for you at work?

So a typical day, I go to Brooklyn in the morning traditionally if I’m not going to the bakery, which is in South Jersey. I would go to Brooklyn in the morning, spend a bunch of time there, and then in the afternoons, I would stop at the restaurants in the city.

What have been some interesting customer requests?

The one that I remember from when I was younger that I always thought was cool was cutting the inside of a cheesecake open and then taking an engagement ring, wrapping it in Saran Wrap, putting it in the cake, obviously after it was baked. And then covering it with fresh strawberries and the glaze.

You sell cheesecakes online as well and to restaurants and supermarkets. Do you have the statistic of how many you send out per day?

I don’t know about send out per day, but I can tell you over the course of a year it’s probably close to four or five million cakes.

What can you say about the time during COVID?

It was one of the worst times to be a restauranteur in the history of the world. It was really tough for our whole company and our employees. And we’re very fortunate we survived. New York was the hardest place for it to happen. Other parts of the country it was a little easier.

Are you releasing any more cookbooks?

No, done. I’ve done four. It’s a lot of work. The person that I did it with actually just passed away a few weeks ago, Beth Allen. So in light of that ... I enjoyed doing it very much with her.

What are some memorable events that happened at Junior’s?

Bobby Kennedy visited before my time. Clinton, Obama. I remember Stephon Marbury’s press conference when he turned pro was amazing. Spike Lee comes by; it’s always fun. LL Cool J filming the “Doin’ It” video right outside.

Who are some current celebrity clients?

To be honest, we don’t really care. You know, it’s not really our thing. We have plenty, but we just sort of leave them alone. Our celebrity clients are the people that come every day or every other day or a couple of times a week. And I’m not just saying that, but those are our celebrity clients.