Featured photo: Daryl Myers Jr. is the owner-operator of DJ’s Cheesecakes out of Winston-Salem (courtesy photo)
They call his son, “Lil Cheesecake.”
Ten years ago, Daryl Myers Jr. watched from a prison visitation yard as his youngest son took his first steps. Now, Myers incorporates his son’s breakfast cereal, and the skills and training acquired with Triad Community Kitchen, into some of Winston Salem’s most loved cheesecakes.
DJ’s Cheesecakes, owned and operated by Myers and his wife, Jennifer, began with a social media post. A picture of a strawberry cheesecake Myers learned to make that day in class garnered so much attention from friends and family that something clicked.
“I posted it; Facebook went crazy,” Myers says. “I said OK, let’s make this a business.”
Myers discovered and cultivated his love of cheesecake through the Second Harvest Food Bank’s Culinary Training program and Triad Community Kitchen. The latter provides an opportunity in culinary training for community members who, like Myers, are met with road blocks to employment after time spent in the criminal justice system.
“After I graduated, I tried to get into one of the restaurants downtown” he says. “I was so wet behind the ears that I had a beautiful cheesecake, showed it to the chef, he asked me the ingredients, and I blanked.”
When downtown establishments turned him away, Myers turned back to Second Harvest Food Bank.
“At this point in time they had a restaurant inside the DoubleTree Hotel on University called Providence,” he says. “I had a portfolio of my work and progress. ‘You can come over here.’ Providence gave me the opportunity to put my cheesecake on a menu.”
DJ’s Cheesecakes snowballed from there. Myers currently serves 13 different locations throughout the Triad, ranging from country clubs to bodegas.
“We want to be accessible to everyone,” he says. “With food, there really is no limitation. We put our principles into building a brand that’s based off adhering to the people, to the ones that support us.”
Without a standard menu, Myers’ cheesecake flavors have as much variety as the locations he sells them.
“We could be walking through the grocery store and my son sees Crunch Berries,” he says. “Okay let’s try that. My kids are my critics, the first to try it every time.”
His cheesecake concoctions include Cinnamon Toast Crunch, pink lemonade, Fruity Pebbles, Lucky Charms, his top-selling banana pudding (his wife’s grandmother’s recipe) and seasonal specials like a Little Debbie Christmas Tree cheesecake.
Myers’ commitment to family, community and his past mentors are clear in his marketing and distribution.
“We’re accessible to anybody,” he says. “You don’t have to go too far. We say we’re your neighborhood cheesecake plug — you can get to it within 10 minutes wherever you’re at in the city.”
Walking into J and J Food Mart on Broad Street in Washington Park, the cashier beams as she talks about the flavors she’s suggested to Myers. Another patron shouts from the back cooler that they’ve known “DJ” since he was a kid. At Triad Community Kitchen, Myers is met with commotion and encouragement from old instructors and fellow chefs. A request for “one of those cherry ones,” is met with an “I got you, man.”
As for now, DJ’s Cheesecakes has no plan for a storefront, but that isn’t stopping Myers from dreams of expansion.
“We got people commenting all the time from Tennessee, from Virginia,” he says. “We want to work on getting our cheesecakes to them. Shipping our cheesecakes is the next step.”
Myers smiles as a fellow Triad Community Kitchen chef runs by, asks when he’s going to be back to teach, and runs out.
“You can use your mistakes to push you and motivate you,” he says. “I made myself accessible to people who wouldn’t give me an opportunity at all just off a box that was checked on a piece of paper. Don’t ever let a mistake define you because you’re going to make them. Mistakes are inevitable.”
You can find DJ’s Cheesecakes on Instagram @djscheesecakes336, and on TikTok, @djscheesecakes. Contact Myers directly to order via their Facebook page, DJs Cheesecakes.
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