Anytime you hear tongues wagging about a recipe that's been handed down for a century or more, it's probably in your palate's best interest to go on and help yourself to a taste of it. Karen Farrar (Farrar's Fine Cheesecake, 224 E. 7th St.) was lucky enough to sample such a sumptuous tradition firsthand. "I used to watch my grandmother make the cheesecake, and I'd see how people lit up at a taste of it," says Farrar. "I've always enjoyed cooking and being in the kitchen. I love seeing that response, how something could taste so good and bring someone so much pleasure." Today, Farrar makes a living from sweets, inspired by her grandmother and touched up with her own twists. Growing up between Charlotte and New York, she credits Brooklyn's infamous Junior's Cheesecake as an influence on her recipes. "Throughout the years, I've played with it and incorporated different flavors [like sweet potato pie, peach cobbler]. They're flavors that my family loves and flavors customers keep coming back for."
Creative Loafing: Even though you've been working with family recipes, this is only recently a family business. What were you up to before?
Karen Farrar: I was working for Bank of America at the start of the recession, and I knew my department was going to be in trouble. So I thought OK, what am I going to do? I have the entrepreneur spirit anyway; this isn't my first go-round at my own business. I was actually a cosmetologist for 12 years. I enjoyed my time at the bank, but I knew what was facing me and I thought it was time for me to create my own destiny. The only thing that I miss is the benefits. It's different when you're self-employed, more challenging.
Can you pinpoint the day you knew your moment had arrived?
Well, we started as a Web-based company, I was just delivering locally. That was taking off around the same time when Reid's closed their downtown location. On the news I saw they were going to make it a public market where vendors could come in and sell their products, and so I thought that might be interesting because the wear and tear of delivering was taking a toll. The rest is pretty much history and so now that's my location.
There was also a function at the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce, which really let me know I had something special. It was an annual tribute to businesses from the area, and our cheesecakes were served. I did it out of generosity and hoped the payback would be generous. Well, everyone loved it. It was the extra "oomph" that I needed. I've always gotten compliments but these were business people with connections raving about it.
What's your favorite flavor?
Piña colada is my personal favorite and the number one best seller. I like to make atypical cheesecakes, even though I offer the traditional. Someday, I'd love to open a cheesecake boutique, a high-end bar in a quaint location where we pair our cheesecakes with different wines.