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We Waited Two Hours and Ate 7,000 Calories at the New Cheesecake Factory

Was it worth eating a day-and-a-half worth of food in one sitting?
2021-04-13 19:00:00
Photos: Brandon McGhee
On the Radar is a SmartShanghai column profiling new restaurants, bars, and other new places we find interesting. Sometimes we stumble upon these places, and sometimes we are invited, but in both cases, we are never paid to write an opinion, rather, these are our honest first impressions, and not a formal review.

What Is It: Cheesecake Factory is an American brand that started out as a mom ‘n’ pop bakery in L.A. in 1972 and grew, and grew, and grew. Now they have over 300 worldwide, 3 of which are in mainland China. 

They’ve had a location in Shanghai since 2016, but it’s down at Disney. That spot does roaring business. At 12.38pm today (April 13), they opened their first in Shanghai proper at the Taikoo Hui mall on Nanjing Xi Lu. Rumor has it that the Disney contract had forbidden them from opening another location in Shanghai for five years. Now the contract is up and the cat is out the bag, can Cheesecake Factory survive without the Disney marriage? 

It’s another name in a long list of foreign ventures that open in Shanghai with "hype": Popeye’s, Tim Horton’s, Starbucks Reserve, Shake Shack, Taco Bell, Dunkin’ Doughnuts etc. As per, this may be another name that will slide into obscurity as the next hot thing comes along (looking at you Five Guys). 

We got there a couple of hours before the opening there were fewer than 10 people in the queue, and most of them were elderly Shanghainese – make of that what you will. By the time doors opened, the demographic had balanced out and things were heating up. It was nothing like some of the other franchise debuts. However, it seems that people who love Cheesecake Factory really LOVE Cheesecake Factory. They go crazy for it. 

Why do you think people love Cheesecake Factory so much?

“I just love it! I drive all the way to the Disney location every week.”

“It’s just so popular!”

“I don’t even care how fat I get.”

“Nostalgia.” [An American]

“For the salmon and mash. Hen tebie!”

“It’s fusion!” [sic]

 The Food: Cheesecake Factory has an almost mythic reputation for its giant portions. ‘American sizes’ is the term that gets thrown about a lot but another way to describe it could be ‘Immorally large’. 

In fact, even the menu itself is huge, clocking in at over 200 items deep, most of which are listed as ‘Specialties’. The really staggering numbers though, come in the calorie count, available on their website. Cheeseburger Spring Rolls: 88rmb – 850 calories Not as awful as you’re imagining. This is exactly what it says it is. Spring roll casing stuffed with burger meat and cheese, and then deep-fried. 

Macaroni Cheeseburger: Calories 138rmb – 1,340 calories A heartstopper of a main, the burger comes with a patty of breaded mac’n’cheese. The usual garnish of lettuce, onions gherkins etc. doesn’t come inside the burger so you can eat the thing without even having to touch a green. 

Fresh Grilled Salmon with Mash and Broccoli: 200rmb – 940 calories Here’s a nod to something healthy, except its big enough to sustain a starving family and comes swimming in butter. The broccoli is literally the whole bush or tree or whatever you call that thing. 

Pasta With Chicken And Lemon Garlic Sauce: 162rmb – 1,400 calories No. 1 dish for the Disney location on Dianping. A creamy plate of chicken and spaghetti with some diced raw tomato and parsley for garnish. 

Original Cheesecake: 69rmb – 860 calories The cheesecake that took the Overton family global. At the end of the day, just a plain old slice of cheesecake. 

Tiramisu Cheesecake: 76rmb – 960 calories Couldn’t resist this one. Lacks some lady fingers and a boozy kick. 

We brought a couple of slices back to the office and staff opinions on the dishes were divided. The Americans seemed to love it. Europeans and Chinese didn’t have such good things to say. The Drinks: Again, the menu is huge. They’ve got a whole page of classic cocktails and various riffs on the Martini, Margarita and Mojito, and whole pages of wines, beers and soft drinks to boot. Margarita: 68rmb – 200 calories A typical cheap marg’, even the salt managed to taste weak. No sign of a fresh lime outside of the garnish. 

Chocolate Milkshake: 70rmb – 1,260 calories Made with a killer amount of ice cream and thick enough to stand a spoon up, this was probably the nicest thing we tried. 

Who’s Going: White-collar workers from around the Taikoo Hui mall; nostalgia-seeking American’s; anyone else who’s curious; those infected by the hype. Final Thoughts: None of this is anything to write home about. Some of the food is good, but nothing is amazing. Maybe that’s why they serve so many items. With a menu this big you’re bound to find something you like. And you’ll be eating all this in a manufactured image of an American restaurant, in a mall. It’s hard to pinpoint why you should actually go to Cheesecake Factory. Most of the excitement of eating there comes from eating such massive portions. A lot of excitement comes from just being there. So why do people love Cheesecake Factory so much? Because of the hype. It doesn’t matter if you’re going with friends, or on a date, or even alone. At best you go to put your morals aside and engage in the guilty gratification of eating wayyy too much food. The reality is you go because you can stuff yourself and tell everyone it was worth the pain you endured afterwards; because you can say how you were there in the grand opening week as you walk past its demure-looking doors and idling staff a few years down the line. Because Penny from the Big Bang Theory worked there on a TV show. Because everyone else wants to go there. Damage: 1,062rmb and 7,810 calories (oof!). * In Shanghai, there's plenty of grub to indulge in, so head to SmartShanghai's Dining Directory for places to eat and drink.