Cheesecake Factory is shedding its fatty ways

Known for gooey, calorie-laden desserts, it's turning to arugula and wraps to thin down.

By Aimee Picchi Jul 26, 2013 2:41PM

Cheesecake Factory restaurant sign in Chicago, Ill., on March 29, 2012 (© George Rose/Getty Images)A revolution is going on at the Cheesecake Factory (CAKE), and apparently it's as popular with certain diners as baby arugula is with localvore foodies.

The restaurant chain, known for fat-laden slices of cheesecake, is finding success with its SkinnyLicious menu, particularly among baby boomers, CEO David Overton said Wednesday on the company's earnings call. 

The menu, introduced in 2011, is "doing well. And many people, again especially baby boomers, that still go out to restaurants quite a bit really appreciate it," Overton said. 

So what's on the SkinnyLicious menu? It includes items that might be more at home at a Berkeley, Calif., localvore restaurant, such as grilled artichokes, fresh-baked flat breads and, yes, an arugula salad. 

Second-quarter comparable restaurant sales (sales at locations open for at least one year) rose by just less than 1% at Cheesecake Factory's outlets. While that was less than some investors had hoped for, the company's shares have gained almost 25% this year. 

Appealing to baby boomers may be paying off, given that they and older consumers have increased their restaurant visits during the past five years while millennials have cut back, according to research from NPD Group that Bloomberg Businessweek cited. 

But restaurants have had a bit of a rocky year, suffering a slowdown. McDonald's (MCD) reported second-quarter results that were a disappointment for shareholders, while Panera (PNRA) shares dropped after the company missed earnings estimates and cut its full-year outlook. 

The bottom line may be that diners -- from budget-conscious McDonald's fans to more free-spending Cheesecake Factory patrons -- may still have a belt-tightening mentality. A recent poll found that more than half of Americans believe the country is still suffering from a recession. 

But Cheesecake Factory may be hitting upon a recipe for success with its SkinnyLicious approach. After all, once done tucking in healthy-sounding menu options (ahi tartare, anyone?), boomers might not feel so guilty about splurging on a piece of cheesecake. 

Follow Aimee Picchi on Twitter at @aimeepicchi. 

More on moneyNOW

Jul 26, 2013 5:38PM
I don't go to places with names like "The Cheesecake Factory" for the health food.
Jul 26, 2013 4:42PM
While I like the SkinnyLicious line, Cheesecake Factory is too expensive, in my opinion.
Jul 26, 2013 5:40PM
And exactly what is the point of making cheesecake healthier?  The whole point of cheesecake is that it TASTES GOOD AND IS NOT GOOD FOR YOU, much like other things in this world.  If you want to stay healthy, then do the obvious and STAY THE HELL OUT OF THE CHEESECAKE FACTORY.......dumaz.
Jul 26, 2013 5:44PM
Great food, large portions which I enjoy when I can take home leftovers. Nothing says you can't split entree's which are too big in most places anyway. Not the cheapest place, but a place I can go too with confidence. 
Jul 29, 2013 9:02AM

The portions on their menu are almost twice the size of a recommended portion. Take half your meal home!

Jul 29, 2013 10:37AM
Cheesecake Factory is too expensive, though I do love their cheesecake and will treat myself a couple times a year.  Last time I ate lunch there, it cost me $60 for an entree, 1 slice of cheesecake and a couple margaritas.  But then as other posters have mentioned, you go there to indulge occasionally, not weekly or even monthly (unless you want to be as big as a house).  Their portion sizes are about triple what a "normal" portion size should be.
Jul 29, 2013 11:35AM
For those of you who wonder why anyone concerned about their health would go to Cheesecake Factory, many times you will see skinny chicks who want to go out with their fat friends and the fat friends want to go to Cheesecake Factory.  The skinny chicks want to be a friend and go along, so they say "sure", instead of: "Why would I want to go there? So I can end up with a fat butt like you?  No thanks!"  Now, the skinny chicks have a part of the menu they can order from, and the fat chicks can all of the rest of the menu. Everybody's happy!
Jul 26, 2013 6:34PM
I only go to Cheesecake Factory for the Skinnylicious menu

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