Wine and Quiche Bubble Over Onto Cheesecake Corner Menu

By Zachary Zoeller

RECIPE FOR GROWTH: Kevin Matthews, owner of The Cheesecake Corner on G.E. Patterson Avenue, whips up a quiche. He recently added the egg-heavy treat to his menu, along with wine. -- Photo By Zachary Zoeller

Kevin Matthews, owner of The Cheesecake Corner at 113 East G.E. Patterson Ave., is used to doing things on his own.

From the time he baked his first cheesecake at 19 years old, to leaving the steel industry at 29 to open the Cheesecake Place, a café in Birmingham, Ala., his independent nature has guided him.

Matthews moved to Memphis in 1999 because the shop could not survive the lean summer months when many residents of the upscale Mountain Brook neighborhood would leave for vacation. After three years of working as a chef at Amerigo at 1239 Ridgeway Road, he opened The Cheesecake Corner in April 2002.

Two months ago, as his dream to bolster his sweet ambrosia with wine was coming to fruition, he had to navigate waters completely unrelated to his culinary expertise - Tennessee law.

"I've always wanted to add wine with my product, so I inquired about the requirements," he said. "Tennessee law states you have to serve one hot meal and have 40 seats."

The perils of expansion

On June 1, Matthews leased the space adjacent to his shop, formerly an art gallery, satisfying the 40-seat mandate.

Next came deciding what food he would add, settling on a hot confection that received a warm reception from his customers in Birmingham - quiche.

Just when it seemed like the quiche and wine bar was in the clear, he found out his shop must undergo building, plumbing, electrical, mechanical and health inspections to obtain a new use of occupancy certificate.

"Mine was 4 years old, and at the last minute they told me it was not good after six months," he said. "I had to go through inspections as if I was a new establishment, so that kind of held things up for a couple of months."

He turned in the application to the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission Aug. 3, and with the tables set and food ready to cook, he played the waiting game.

Finally, Matthews received word Sept. 22 that he was approved to serve wine, and within hours wine distribution company Star Distributor delivered 48 bottles of pinot noir, chardonnay, port and more to his restaurant.

Wine and dine

From crab to spinach and artichoke, Matthews offers 12 quiches, ranging from $7 to $13 for a slice or $50 to $90 for a whole dish.

A quiche is a baked pie made primarily of eggs and cream with a pastry crust, and often meat, fish and other ingredients are added.

Matthews baked his first quiche 10 years ago, and he offered a turkey and ham quiche in Birmingham.

The other flavors just came from his head in the past few months, he said.

"Someone suggested that quiche would be good on the menu," he said. "I just kind of played around with it."

The wines, from California, Australia, Italy, Spain and Scotland, sell for $6 per glass, and all bottles are $23 except for a 2005 vintage Rosemount Riesling from Australia, which sells for $12.

Depending on how well the current stock sells, Matthews will consider expanding the wine list, he said.

One man's vision

The Cheesecake Corner already was connected to the adjacent space by a double door near the front of the building, so it made sense that the two would become one.

However, walking from one room to the next, it is not immediately apparent that the two unique spaces are part of one man's vision.

The Cheesecake Corner is colorful with paintings and framed newspaper and magazine clippings hanging on red painted walls, and decorations, such as an antique cake mixer, line the front windows.

Through the double French doors, the white walls of the carefully constructed quiche and wine bar reflect the flawless white tablecloths. Black metal chairs surround the tables, and a glass wine bar sits in the middle of the room with a large frosted mirror behind it.

The effect of the contrast is to create the illusion of two separate establishments, Matthews said.

Matthews also added a deck in back where patrons can hobnob, drink wine and smoke cigars, he said. A new upstairs room with cushioned seats and candles offers a lounge setting away from the straight-backed chairs downstairs.

In two large front windows sit two white, metal parakeet cages with three hopping, chirping parakeets, whose yellow and green feathers are bursts of color in their stark surroundings.

Keeping things interesting

With the quiche and wine bar, Matthews said he hopes The Cheesecake Corner will continue its status as a Downtown landmark.

"Someone just told me that a couple days ago," he said. "People tell their friends they moved Downtown, and they'll ask, 'Are you near the cheesecake store?'"

Matthews said he has enjoyed being part of the resurgence of Downtown, especially the South Main Arts District.

"The whole area is steadily growing, and my business is slowing growing by word of mouth," he said.

Philip Henry, who frequents the Cheesecake Corner three to four times a week, already has tried many of Matthews' new quiche flavors.

On a Saturday afternoon, he sat awaiting a piece of turkey- and dressing-flavored quiche and a glass of pinot grigio.

"You can't get this anywhere else," he said. "I've never been disappointed because he's got enough flavors to keep things interesting."