The Cheesecake Factory's Very First Menu Wasn't Nearly As Beefy As It Is Today

The Cheesecake Factory is, in some ways, emblematic of America. This is a company that is at once a national brand and a family-owned company, a place that has both a universal and regimented training process for servers, and decor that appears to have been chosen from a Going Out of Business sale at Wacky Bob's House of Random Objects. (Although, to be fair, the consistently high levels of job satisfaction among their employees is decidedly unusual for any large American company.)

And if there's one thing The Cheesecake Factory is known for is their absurdly long menu, by far the longest of any American chain restaurant. This is by design, as they want you to keep talking about how long the menu is (it basically functions as free advertising). You might think the length of the menu was a deliberately-curated part of the restaurant's origin story — but you'd be wrong. It turns out the menu, like many other aspects of The Cheesecake Factory's history, was more of a "we're-just-out-here-winging-it" accident than anything else.

The original menu is long for a starter restaurant, but miniscule by The Cheesecake Factory standards

It's important to note how we got here, so here's the short version: The Cheesecake Factory as a restaurant was started by David Overton, who wanted a place to sell his parents' homemade cheesecakes (made at their quite literal factory for cheesecakes, which they imaginatively called The Cheesecake Factory) directly to consumers. Overton opened the company's first location in Beverly Hills amidst the fine dining district and it was an immediate smash hit owing to its lack of pretense amidst the fine dining restaurants that surrounded it.

The thing is, Overton had no restaurant experience when he got started in the business, and the place's original menu shows it. As with today's colossal menu, there's no real genre to the food on offer; the only connecting theme is "hey, that sounds like it would be good." Beyond that, it was a big menu for a new restaurant, sure, but nothing like what the place's menu looks like now. It was only later that Overton started expanding what was on offer ... and then never really stopped expanding it.

The Cheesecake Factory just does things differently from other restaurants

Overton's explanation for why the menu expanded from there is basically that he didn't want another place to come and steal his business, so he kept adding items so no one would have to go anywhere else. He freely admits he didn't know this is how restaurants were supposed to operate — and the place was so successful that at a certain point, conventional wisdom ceased to matter. Maybe it's not surprising that everything The Cheesecake Factory does as a company is different from other big chains considering its guiding light in all things is basically "the normal restaurant rules don't apply here."

However we got to this point of ballooning menu hysteria, there's no denying The Cheesecake Factory is doing something right when it comes to staying in the national consciousness. The Cheesecake Factory can never be accused of lacking an identity. It may be an identity that bounces off the wall harder than a racquetball, but it's an identity nevertheless.