EAST POINT, Ga. - Growing up in Southwest Atlanta, Samuel "Sammy" Smith Jr. dreamed of many things. Being a baker was not one of them.
"I never liked baking," the Westlake High School graduate says with a laugh.
But that changed when Smith was training to be a chef at Le Cordon Bleu and tasked with making a cheesecake: "I was like, ‘This is the best cheesecake I ever had!’"
His friends and family agreed — and soon, Smith was baking cheesecakes and other desserts in his parents’ kitchen and selling them out of the back of his Chevy Tahoe. It was hot, messy, labor-intensive work; and when he took over an old East Point pizza place in 2011 and opened Sammy Cheezecake, it was still hot, messy, and labor-intensive.
"It was grease everywhere, Paul! I mean, everywhere! On the walls, on the handles. And so, somebody was cleaning up one day and they had a little light, and I saw a beacon of hope. I said, ‘You know what? I’m gonna try.’"
Smith says he struggled for the first three years — but thanks to some positive press and a growing menu of decadent desserts, the community started showing up. Since then, various publications have named Sammy Cheezecake the best bakery in metro Atlanta and credited it with having the best cheesecake in the state. The glowing reviews have helped the business thrive, even during the pandemic.
"It grows every year," says Smith. "From last year to this year, we’ve probably tripled in sales."
So, while that single cheesecake in class may have changed his life, Sammy Smith Jr. says the real lesson is in everything that followed: The importance of finding what you love and giving it everything you’ve got.
"I’m a living testimony of it. Things may be bad right now, but keep pushing through. Keep relying on your faith and you keep pushing through, and I’m telling you, good things can happen."
For more information on Sammy Cheezecake, click over to the bakery’s website here.
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