While cheesecake is widely associated with Shavuot, Capital City Cheesecake in Takoma Park, MD, has turned it into a thriving year-round business. Known for its decadent miniature cheesecakes, which come in a variety of flavors, as well as signature coffee drinks, baked goods, hearty sandwiches and more, the sweet café has built a loyal local following.

Sisters and Capital City Cheesecake co-owners Caitlin and Meaghan Murphy

Sisters and Capital City Cheesecake co-owners Caitlin and Meaghan Murphy

Co-owners, sisters and best friends Meaghan and Caitlin Murphy, both in their early 30s, never imagined they would be successful café owners when they started making cheesecakes back in 2009. Both were facing significant life transitions and were looking for a way to bring in extra holiday cash while they decided on the next phase of their careers.

Caitlin, a preschool teacher at the Washington DCJCC at the time and the more artistic of the two sisters, had created a cheesecake recipe for a friend’s birthday years earlier. With that recipe in hand, she and Meaghan invited 40 friends, friends of friends and family members to taste test different flavors, including key lime, crème brûlée, chocolate red velvet, peppermint and pumpkin. The feedback was excellent, and the orders started rolling in. Capital City Cheesecake was launched.

For a year, the sisters took orders through their website and delivered the cheesecakes to customers. They also established wholesale accounts with local restaurants, including Occidental Grill and Seafood. But, as Meaghan recalls, something was missing. “We wanted to create a more meaningful experience and build relationships with our customers,” she says. In 2010, Capital City Cheesecake opened its café and bakery in a three-story building that had stood vacant for six months.

In particular, Caitlin’s experience with a teaching philosophy that encourages learning by doing gave her the confidence to open up a shop. “Failure isn’t something to fear,” she says. “I applied that philosophy to my life. Just try. Learn by doing, and go from there.”

At the time, cupcakes were big and Georgetown Cupcake dominated the local baking scene, according to Meaghan. “We had something different to offer: miniature cheesecakes!” Customers come into the bakery, mix and match flavors and walk away with tasty two-inch miniature cheesecakes. No pre-ordering is required.

“There was a lot of pressure that first year,” says Meaghan, the visionary and more business-savvy of the sisters. “Every month, we committed to doing something more: adding a new cheesecake flavor, a new chalkboard sign, even enhancing the ambiance.” Before long, they added cookies, quiches, croissants, and coffees along with vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.

Today, Capital City Cheesecake makes and sells 1,000 miniature cheesecakes a week, in addition to hundreds of other pastries. Yes, business is good.

The Murphy family has been a long-time supporter of the café. Not only were they the first investors in the business, but Dad is “Mr. Fix” man (“Anything and everything that needs to be built, updated or fixed, my dad takes care of it,” Meaghan says). Mom helps open a few mornings a week, and two brothers often assist with special projects and renovations. Meaghan says the brothers also don aprons to help on busy days if they’re needed. Even the youngest Murphy sister, who is 13, helps out with small tasks here and there.

Caitlin credits the families’ work ethic to her grandparents, some of whom worked in the food industry. Her mother’s parents were working-class, German Jewish immigrants who lived in the Midwest. “We’re inspired by them, and their spirit keeps us going,” Caitlin says. “They worked hard all their lives to build a family business, and here we are, standing on the shoulders of our grandmothers.”

Although Caitlin and Meaghan’s grandparents worked hard to assimilate when they came to the United States and did not talk openly about being Jewish, their mother embraced her Judaism, bringing Jewish holidays and Shabbat into the family home. She even became a bat mitzvah as an adult. Caitlin says that her mother’s choices have influenced her own. She studied with Rabbi David Shneyer to become a bat mitzvah and is culturally Jewish. Meaghan, who followed in their father’s footsteps, was confirmed in a Catholic Church.

Now, five years into their business, Caitlin and Meaghan have a staff of 17 and an extensive menu. Capital City Cheesecake is the place where locals come to hang out and enjoy a nosh or a miniature cheesecake—or, very often, both.

Capital City Cheesecake, 301-270-7260, 7071 Carroll Avenue, Takoma Park, MD, Monday-Friday 7:30 am – 6 pm, Saturday and Sunday 8 am – 6 pm. Not kosher.

Photos courtesy of District Design Group.