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What is all the fuss about The Cheesecake Factory, anyway?
The overnight instant success of barely a week old Cheesecake Factory Dubai branch is typical of the city's obsession with all things international and imported thinks Eva Fernandes
August 22, 2012 5:23 by Eva Fernandes
If you haven’t been living under a rock for the past week, you would know that The Cheesecake Factory has opened a branch in the Dubai Mall. For one thing, even if you could escape the omnipresent ads splashed across Dubai Mall, it is almost impossible to ignore the multiple photographs and quips about the restaurant Facebook and Twitter seem to be inundated with at the moment.
Having been to The Cheesecake Factory back in the States, I wasn’t too fussed to dine at Dubai’s new favourite hot spot. Nonetheless, I found myself in Dubai Mall on the first day of Eid with a group of friends who wished to sample the much-talked about eatery. Even though it was way past dinner time, 9:30 in the evening, we were told we had to wait two and a half hours to get a table. We turned around; that was two and a quarter hours too many for us—still my friends did not lose hope. Last night, we went back to the restaurant and wagered at 10:30 on a weeknight we’d breeze right through. Wrong. So, so, so wrong. Well, at least we were better off this time: after all the hostess told us we would have to wait only two hours. Still, twiddling our thumbs until the 81 families, who were ahead of us on the waiting list, were seated was a tiring thought and we turned our backs on the establishment.
As I walked away from The Cheesecake Factory for the second time in four days, I wondered at the instant popularity of this particular import. Now I have been in the UAE for more than 20 years, but I don’t think I have ever seen such a reception to a restaurant in its opening week, at least not for a restaurant that is relatively low-end. What is all the fuss about, anyway? Is it really good food? Or is a well timed opening just before the Eid holidays? Or maybe it is because located at one of the city’s most popular malls? Or maybe, just maybe, the fascination is indicative of Dubai’s sometimes mindless love of anything international and imported?
After all Dubai’s somewhat celebrated culinary scene is comprised primarily of imported franchises. From the high end of the spectrum, Nobu and Zuma, to the other end consisting of omnipresent classics like McDonald’s and Applebees, most of the popular spots to eat in the city have originated in foreign shores only to be shipped off to the Emirates. Sure, you have successful local upstarts like Wild Peeta, Lemongrass and More Cafe—but they are so rare they are always prefaced with a discretionary proud disclaimer as a ‘home-grown upstart.’
Granted the Cheesecake Factory is a much loved and highly popular chain in the US. Since it opened 30 years ago in 1978 in Beverly Hills, the chain now enjoys a significant presence all over the United States boasting of an impressive 170 locations. The variety of food, the cheesecake in particular, is rather extensive—the branch in Dubai offers its diners more than 250 items on the menu in addition to 40 different types of cheesecake. And having eaten at the joint, I would say the food is rather commendable—though I don’t know when I would have the lucky honor of dining there again. Because even though the Dubai Mall branch is 13,851 square feet big and can accommodate more than 300 diners at a time, I have a feeling the long lines are only going to get longer. Why?
Sure, one could argue that sentimentality of homesick expatriates accounts for the success of international imports—but I get the sense that nostalgia isn’t the main motivation behind the madness. No, I think it something far less warm and fuzzy and more along the lines of a case of chronic herd-mentality.