Queen of cheesecake

Baskin-Robbins has nothing on Muddy Paws: 170 flavors, including a special one for Elvis fans

Just in time to test New Year’s diet resolutions, cheesecake aficionado Tami Cabrera Weinmann opened Muddy Paws Cheesecake at 2528 Hennepin Ave. S.

The business boasts more than 170 flavors of rich, tasty cheesecake – a number that keeps growing through staff recipes and customer requests. Cabrera Weinmann claims Muddy Paws produces "more flavors than anyone else in the world."

Popular flavors include Raspberry Swirl, Turtle and the classic New York, but custom flavors, such as the Elvis cheesecake (peanut butter and bananas), are popular, too.

The East Isles Muddy Paws is the first in Minneapolis and the third overall (others are in St. Paul and Maple Grove). The Southwest locale has added a café with a deli menu including soups, sandwiches, quiches, coffee, a line of truffles and gift items.

Customer Nathan Woolery, a two-time visitor, has found Muddy Paws to be a good place for lunch and a big cup of coffee during breaks from his job as a special education assistant across the street at Jefferson School, 1200 26th St.

Despite being an admitted fan of sweets, Woolery said with chagrin that he has still yet to try the cheesecake. "I actually haven’t [tried it], but I’ve bought it for gifts," he said.

A passion for cheesecake

A blank palate like Woolery’s, or even of someone claiming to dislike cheesecake, is the exact challenge that Cabrera Weinmann seems to thrive on. "I can make anybody a cheesecake lover," she said with the certainty of a celebrity chef. "Anybody who doesn’t like cheesecake hasn’t had my cheesecake."

Indeed, Cabrera Weinmann said her confidence comes from being a "food snob." Her parents, restaurant owners in Chicago, instilled an appreciation for well-made food.

For example, she said her cheesecake is made Chicago or New York style, with real cream cheese, unlike others that use egg whites and flour. Cabrera Weinmann said although the other method is less expensive, it is of lower quality.

She said making a great cheesecake can be complicated. "Making a cake from start to finish is six hours [of work]," Cabrera Weinmann said, adding that natural ingredients are necessary for a good cake, but careful preparation is also essential.

Cabrera Weinmann said a cake must be baked and cooled slowly to prevent cracking and falling. In addition, she said de-panning and cutting a cheesecake – a time-consuming process – must be done carefully to avoid damage.

Muddy paws

Cabrera Weinmann’s cheesecake expertise didn’t appear overnight; she had years of practice.

After attending college in Wisconsin, Cabrera Weinmann moved to the Twin Cities and began jobs in advertising. "I noticed pretty quickly that there wasn’t any cheesecake here," she said.

While still an adwoman, Cabrera Weinmann began making cheesecake in her spare time to bring into the office. "People were going crazy," she recalled.

The demand quickly grew and people began ordering her creations for parties and events. She filled those orders as a side job for two years.

In 1996, the 27-year-old, newly married Cabrera Weinmann quit her job and rented a kitchen through a St. Paul community-based nonprofit, the Neighborhood Development Center (NDC).

Cabrera Weinmann said their guidance and severely discounted $5-an-hour rent for an incubator kitchen helped her build a business using only a Visa card with a $2,000 limit. An animal lover with a retriever and poodle at home, she coined the name Muddy Paws.

Kathy Moriarty, an NDC senior program coordinator, said Cabrera Weinmann participated in a program that taught budding food entrepreneurs about packaging, food safety, product production, cost and pricing. Cabrera Weinmann got an extra boost when organizers helped get her first retail space in St. Paul three years ago.

Moriarty said Cabrera Weinmann’s success has made her an NDC star. She said Cabrera Weinmann’s organizational skills and creativity were early signs she’d be a successful entrepreneur. Moriarty said she’s always seemed very organized, despite juggling a busy family and work schedule. She also patiently prepares to reduce business risks, such as new locations.

Cabrera Weinmann said although the Uptown store is her third location; she still doesn’t pay herself, instead, she rolls all of the money back into the business. Her combined operations now make 100 cakes a day, up from five per month at the start.

She also received a cathode-ray benediction when her mail-order cheesecake business got a mention on Al Roker’s Food Network show.

Cabrera Weinmann has also found great success in doing wedding cakes, which now accounts for 50 to 60 percent of her business. The wedding work can consume her life during the summer wedding rush. She’s also entered the wholesale business, landing contracts with restaurants and recently with Kowalski’s groceries.

Cabrera Weinmann said one of her challenges is that she is also wife and mother of three children, ages 5, 3 and 1. As her family grows, so do her cheesecake flavors.

Flavors

Cabrera Weinmann, the designated cheesecake taster, said she began with 10 flavors, which grew to 60, then 100 and on to the current 170. Staff helps to create flavors, she said, but her vote is final.

So far, no one has tested Muddy Paws by asking for something truly outrageous, say, an avocado-pepperoni cheesecake.

She said the strangest flavors they’ve ever made on request are Blueberry-Pistachio-Cranberry and a Peanut Butter & Jelly cheesecake. The Elvis Cheesecake is the result of many requests from Memphis and Las Vegas cheesecake fans, she said.

When asked about her favorite, Cabrera Weinmann toyed with a couple of options, but settled on the Espresso Kahlua Cheesecake. Moriarty said through her NDC work with Cabrera Weinmann she’s probably tried half the flavors, but remains loyal to her favorite, Pumpkin Spice.

For more information, visit www.muddypawscheesecake.com/.