It’s not every fledgling business that can thank Prince for its name. But not every cheesecake sends out a groovy, earthy vibe that “combines elements of rhythm and blues and soul music”—you know, the classic cheesecake funk.
Vanessa Drews was working part time selling merchandise at the infamous Paisley Park, which served as Prince’s home and studio during the legendary musician’s short life, when she decided to bring in some of her cheesecakes for the visiting band members.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think he’d taste one,” she said of Prince. “He found them in the fridge and loved them.”
In one of his invitations welcoming people to Paisley Park, Prince added the message: “Help yourself to some cheesecake funk.”
He also posted on social media a picture of two monkeys trying to resuscitate a third one with the message: “This is what happens when someone eats the last piece of Vanessa’s cheesecake.” Drews not only saved that message, she added it to her Facebook page.
At the time, making cheesecakes was a hobby, but after that endorsement it became a business—and Cheesecake Funk found its groove.
The artist who designed Prince's last two album covers helped design her logo, a stylized font with curvy purple letters.
Her first big break came in 2008 when a friend who owned McMahon’s Irish Pub in South Minneapolis started featuring her desserts on his menu. When the bar burned down in 2010, Drews decided the timing to quit her job as a senior paralegal wasn’t prudent. Once her cheesecakes convinced management at Crave American Kitchen and Sushi Bar to add them to the menu for more than just the Eden Prairie location, Drews, a single mother of two, made the leap.
She sells whole cakes: $35 for an 8-inch and $50 for the 10-inch. Best sellers include Prince’s favorite, Turtle; white chocolate caramel; and a banana cream cheesecake with as much whipped cream as filling.
We bought a pie to see what all the fuss was about and the three people we grudgingly shared it with all declared it was the best cheesecake they’ve ever tasted. Her secret isn’t so secret: “I use high-quality ingredients” and make everything, even the crust, from scratch, she said, and topping it all off are fresh garnishes of fruit, chocolate or caramel. She partners with another chef at the shared kitchen, who makes caramel from scratch. But don’t take our word for it, almost every Yelp reviewer gives her five stars.
Currently, she’s not selling her cheesecakes by the slice, but you can get them at Crave and Tequila Butcher. “Crave always looks for local partners to do business with,” said Kam Talebi, founder and CEO of Kaskaid Hospitality, owner of Crave. “Vanessa's Cheesecake Funk is a fantastic product and made fresh locally so we have truly enjoyed working with her to get her cheesecake launched at all Crave locations. They are simply delicious and we have sold hundreds in our locations.”
And she’s looking for other restaurant accounts.
After she quit her paralegal job in 2019, Drews used some of her 401(k) funds to purchase the equipment she needed to start baking out of a shared commercial kitchen. Since she’s a single mom, she keeps herself safe by baking alone, which means she shops, bakes, delivers and markets all on her own.
Since all of her product goes out the door as whole cakes, she says she rarely samples her work. “If I bring them to an event, sometimes I’ll have a little sliver,” she admits with a laugh. While her fans rave about her cheesecakes, her kids are split down the middle. Her 4-year-old daughter likes spicy foods, and “will not touch my cheesecakes,” Drews said, while “my son (who is 6) is a picky eater, but he loves my cheesecakes. He wants the whipped cream.”
Don’t we all.