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OXON HILL — While furloughed during the government shutdown, local sisters Jaqi Wright and Nikki Howard made the best of a bad situation when they started their own cheesecake business and were soon featured on the Ellen Show on Jan. 20.
The two sisters had never given any thought to starting their own business. At the end of last year they were furloughed from their jobs, Jaqi at the Department of Justice as an analyst and Nikki at the Food and Drug Administration for recruitment and outreach.
Like many who were caught in the midst of the shutdown, the two women were deeply affected. Nikki worried about how she would pay her daughter’s college tuition and neither of their husbands were able to work either.
“It was very organic the way we came together,” Nikki said. “We were not really trying to start a business initially.”
Nikki had baked cheesecake and donated it to her church for New Years’ Eve. She had given Jaqi one as well and ate it with their mother the next morning. Jaqi thought the cheesecake was so delicious it made her forget about the furlough and all of her problems. Their mother said the cheesecake was so good they could sell it.
It was then that the ideas started racing through their minds about how they could start a business off of it. They worried about how they would be able to afford the ingredients since they did not have any paychecks coming in but they decided to take a leap of faith and give it a shot. It was from there that The Furlough Cheesecake was born.
Baked fresh from home, The Furlough Cheesecake sells two flavors of cheesecake, original and sweet potato, with graham cracker crust and their customers can either pick up the cheesecake themselves or have it shipped.
Their sales have soared since they began, especially after they appeared on CNN which brought their sales into the hundreds. After the two appeared on The Ellen Show, the sales picked up into the thousands.
Now that their sales have increased so much and the goal is to make nearly 100 cheesecakes per day, the two can’t possibly do it all on their own so they have enlisted the help of their brother Mikey to help with the baking and their daughters to help with administrative business. As the momentum continues, they hope to employ other members of the community.
Nikki said her daughter was so happy and proud of her mother and her aunt’s success that she sent an email to Ellen DeGeneres to tell her about it and soon DeGeneres called them to invite them onto the show.
They video called into the show to talk with DeGeneres, much to their excitement, and the talk show host said her friends at Cheerios were so inspired by their story that they gave her $20,000 to give to The Furlough Cheesecake.
“Get ready, you’d better start making cheesecakes because you’re going to have a lot of orders,” Degeneres said.
The whole experience of being on the show and the amount of exposure it garnered still seems surreal, Jaqi said.
“It still doesn’t feel real to me,” she said. “Especially since she, as far as we know, there have been three different episodes where she actually said our names in reference to cheesecake. Today she actually tasted it, they aired her tasting it, so that was just amazing to have her be as excited as I was the first day that I tasted that cheesecake. It’s really magical.”
Born out of a tough situation as victims of the longest government shutdown in United States history with no end in sight and no idea when they would be getting paid, The Furlough Cheesecake is a product of hard work and vision. Now Nikki and Jaqi want people to know that you cannot let circumstances dictate your fate. Sometimes you have to believe and just go for it.
“Don’t be afraid to take a leap of faith,” Jaqi said.
The shutdown is over now and Jaqi and Nikki have returned to work but no matter what, they said, The Furlough Cheesecake is here to stay.