With Cheesecake this Good, it’s Gotta be Ugly 

Ugly Cheesecake Company

WRITTEN BY CARISSA ANDREWS | PHOTOGRAPHED BY NELS NORQUIST

HAVE YOU EVER TRIED CHEESECAKE SO DELIGHTFULLY GOOD, YOU’RE INSTANTLY ADDICTED? If you haven’t yet, just you wait. There’s some ugly cheesecake with your name on it. 

Ryan Nelson (left) and Jason Marcum co-own the Ugly Cheesecake Company.

Ryan Nelson and Jason Marcum are by no means new to the restaurant business. They’ve been business partners for the past six years, operating as Jr.’s No. 19 BBQ Company; originally of Pine River. The two of them became fast friends when Jason came in and tried one of Ryan’s hot pastrami sandwiches—and was completely hooked. He continued to come back over the course of a couple of weeks, and even hopped behind the counter to help out when things got busy. They found they have a lot in common and work extremely well together.  

For the past few years, Jr.’s has been running out of the Crosslake American Legion, with fresh-made, gourmet barbeque, and more. And by more, we mean incredibly tasty, albeit perhaps a bit ugly, cheesecakes. 

The Ugly Origin

As with all good stories, the creation of the Ugly Cheesecake Company began with crazy, random happenstance. Or as some would
call it, fate. 

About five years ago, Ryan accidentally overshot an order of cream cheese he was planning to use for a batch of spinach artichoke dip. Rather than let it go to waste or send it back, he got the idea to make cheesecake—even though he’d never made one before. 

The first attempt went okay, but it fell apart. After putting it in the fridge to harden up, Ryan’s girlfriend at the time stumbled on the cheesecake. She told him in no uncertain terms that it was the ugliest cheesecake she’d ever seen, but it tasted great. Her recommendation was to make it prettier, and they’d have a winner.

Thus, the Ugly Cheesecake Company was born … almost.  

Ryan Nelson works in the kitchen, slicing up pieces of cheesecake.

Knowing When to Slice Off the Cheesecake…Company?

While Ryan has been experimenting with his cheesecake recipes for five years, it wasn’t until January 1 of this year (in honor of Jr.’s No. 19) that he and Jason decided to break off the cheesecake business from Jr.’s BBQ. As it turns out, it was a wise decision because business is booming.

Even though their cheesecake has been the talk of the town for those who tried it, many people were confused by the connection to Jr.’s
No. 19 BBQ. 

“People thought we were smoking the cheesecakes or something,” Ryan said with a laugh. 

Others were confused by Jr.’s connection to the Crosslake American Legion and whether or not it was open to the public. Hint: It is! However, you can now find your U.G.L.Y. (Uncommonly Good, Light, Yet…) still Cheesecake cropping up all over Lake Country. You can even order them for pick-up or delivery in your area. 

Creativity in Cream Cheese

Creativity certainly comes in different forms. For Ryan and Jason, it’s in the brainstorming of new cheesecake flavors and the names
they give them.

As of right now, there are twenty-five different flavors available, but Ryan has ideas for thousands. After stopping in to talk with the two men, I can see why. These guys aren’t just food connoisseurs, they’re visionaries. 

With no recipe they were modeling after, the trial and error period to figure out the perfect base recipe took two to three years—and Ryan has just recently nailed his final secret ingredient. One of the not-so-secret secrets about Ugly Cheesecakes are how all of the flavors are natural and infused into the batter, not placed on top as an afterthought. 

If you’re new to the Ugly Cheesecake experience, rest assured you can find a flavor you’ll immediately love. Their most popular flavors right now are their Original New York-Style (with or without bourbon caramel sauce), Strawberry Rockstar (complete with their natural, homemade pop rocks on top), and Oreo Cookies and Cream. Both Ryan and Jason swear by Barry’s Blueberry Blast. 

I can personally attest to their Raspberry Lemonchino and Strawberry Rockstar. (By the way, where else can you find cheesecake with natural, alternatively flavored pop rocks on top? So cool!)

Plus, their naming convention is pretty awesome, too. If you get the chance, stop in and ask Jason about how they came up with some of their more original names. While they’ve gotten really busy these days, and their naming convention has taken a back-burner, Jason said they’re always open to names
from patrons. 

“If someone suggests a cheesecake flavor and we end up using it, we have no problem naming it after them,” he also said. 

Keep your eyes open for future growth and news coming soon from the Ugly Cheesecake Company. Besides expanding into area restaurants, Ryan and Jason are looking to take everything back to Pine River. They’ve bought a building across from the Pine River Library and they’re looking to break ground this fall to expand their offerings. There’s even talk about a collaboration between 14 Lakes Brewery in Crosslake and the Ugly Cheesecake Company. So, what are you waiting for? It’s time to get Ugly. 

Where You Can Get Ugly 

Is your mouth watering yet? Don’t worry, your slice of Ugly Cheesecake is closer than you think. You can still find their deliciousness at the Crosslake American Legion, but Ugly Cheesecakes are cropping up at restaurants all over Lake Country. Here’s the current list, with more being added all the time. 

• Crosslake American Legion

• Sage on Laurel, Brainerd

• Baxter Cafe 

• Fozzies, Bemidji 

• Northwoods Candy Company,
  Grand Rapids

• Diner’s Café, Emily

• Bullwinkles, Nevis 

For up-to-date Ugly Cheesecake sightings, visit their Facebook page: The Ugly Cheesecake Company. To place an order, call: 218.851.7806.