The Story Behind The Cheesecake Factory's Truly Unique Decor

Ahh, The Cheesecake Factory, where you can take an international visitor to perhaps best represent the totality of American excess. It's probably best known for its absurdly long menu (which is a deliberate marketing tactic), but it's also a family-owned business that started as a literal factory for making cheesecakes. Compared to most American sit-down chains, the place definitely has a reputation for quality.

But there's one other thing The Cheesecake Factory is known for: Its wacky as-heck decor. While other restaurants typically go for a simple theme that reflects the brand itself (kitsch for TGI Friday's, quick Italian for Olive Garden, Australian for Outback Steakhouse), The Cheesecake Factory tends to feature sweeping columns, palm trees, and wood paneling in every location. If your instinct is, "What do any of those things have to do with cheesecake," the answer is absolutely nothing. It turns out they were just items their designer and the CEO thought were cool.

The Cheesecake Factory's décor really is whatever the designers felt like including

The Cheesecake Factory was already a success when veteran designer Rick McCormack came on board in 1992, having expanded outside its Los Angeles origins in 1990 with a location in Washington, D.C. But those early restaurants didn't have the same bizarre yet oddly comforting visual flair we now associate with the place. That was the work of McCormack — working in conjunction with David Overton, the company's still-CEO.

McCormack himself admits the style might not sound good if you've never experienced it, telling Eater, "If I try to describe to you what it looks like, you'd probably think it was one of the most horrible-looking places around." 

He's not wrong; though no two The Cheesecake Factory locations are quite the same, they all seem to share a riot of influences from Egypt to Victorian England to frescoes reminiscent of Central Europe. According to McCormack, the Egyptian style was mainly because Overton always thought Egyptian stuff looked cool. That's it; that's the whole reason.

The Cheesecake Factory locations even vary in design from one to another

The diversity of design, meanwhile, was likewise a deliberate choice. While most American chain restaurants have rigidly-defined design aesthetics, one The Cheesecake Factory location always looks at least a little different from another because McCormack and Overton never wanted their restaurants to stagnate visually. It makes sense; much like the lengthy menu, the weird and idiosyncratic designs are intended as conversation pieces as much as they are fun exercises in design creativity. Though the signature Egyptian columns are common to most locations, even they get swapped out for the chain's flagship locations, such as Las Vegas, where they're replaced with mosaic-style columns.

Though McCormack has since moved on from the company, now running his own design studio, Studio McCormack, The Cheesecake Factory hasn't stopped its weird quest to unite seemingly every design element under the sun. Sure, sometimes it can kind of feel like you're eating while being stared down at by the Eye of Sauron, but you can't argue it's ever dull.