After 40 years, baker still has a distinct taste for cheesecake

Founder of Mrs. PosM-i's treats keeps hand in local business that started with a dream

August 23, 2006|By LIA GORMSEN | LIA GORMSEN,SUN REPORTER

When she launched Mrs. PosM-i's cheesecake from her Govans rowhouse 40 years ago, Lois Gibbons kept herself and her ovens in service around the clock, delivering her treats to customers in a '62 Ford station wagon while raising three young children.

Now she has a more relaxing role: occasional taster.

Though she retired to Florida 15 years ago - where she golfs three times a week with second husband Joe Gibbons - she still spends holidays and summers in Baltimore, managing to keep her taste buds in the operation. "The best job there is," Gibbons, who turns 80 this month, says with a smile.

The PosM-i name (she likes an accent over the e, in a fancy French version of her first husband's last name, Posey) and the original cheesecake recipe remain of the company Gibbons started in 1965 - now much larger than the original kitchen operation.

The cakes are baked 100 at a time in an old Marshal rotating oven at an industrialized bakery on Old Milford Mill Road, and the commercial delivery truck bears no resemblance to that old Ford. The lineup of products includes more than 30 varieties of cheesecake along with pies, brownies, cakes and fancy European-style desserts, including tiramisu and chocolate ganache.

The bakery, called the Original Cheesecake PosM-i, sells about 1,000 cakes a week to delicatessens, restaurants and grocery stores in the Mid-Atlantic region. It's run by Gibbons' daughter Susan Harris, who has adopted the last name PosM-i when doing business. The bakery competes in a crowded cheesecake field. But when she started, Gibbons recalls, cheesecake wasn't so easy to find around here.

"I grew up in Connecticut, where cheesecake was the main dessert in local restaurants, yet when I moved to Baltimore in the late '50s no one had it on their menus," says Gibbons. "I knew that if I could perfect a recipe, then I could start selling my cheesecakes to area restaurants."

At the time, Gibbons was working part time as a waitress.

"I had recurring dreams about selling cheesecake, and I took it as a sign," said Gibbons. After she combined a rich cheesecake recipe from a Viennese co-worker with a lighter one from a sister-in-law, the original PosM-i cheesecake recipe was born.

Gibbons started out by taking whole cheesecakes into restaurants and offering the owners a taste. "I had to have three ovens installed in my basement and would sometimes even rent out my neighbors' ovens for $5 a day," she says.

The strategy and hard work paid off: In 1971 Gibbons' father helped her purchase her own bakery after learning that Alfred Vanderbilt was having the PosM-i cheesecake flown to New York for his parties.

The bakery has tried to stay on top of customers' fluctuating tastes. It has discontinued flavors that failed to sell, like white-chocolate hazelnut and banana creme, and mass-produced others, like the popular black-bottom and Oreo cheesecakes.

There was an attempt to respond to health-food trends by baking a low-fat version of the original, but when it comes to cheesecake, "people just want to indulge," Gibbons says.

Ocean's Pride in Lutherville has been carrying PosM-i's desserts for 1 1/2 years. "The PosM-i cheesecakes and desserts sell really well. Our customers are always very pleased with the taste," said restaurant manager Mary Ernst. Other area vendors include Michael's Cafe in Timonium and Giovanni's Restaurant in Edgewood.

"It's hard to imagine this all started with one cheesecake and a dream," says Gibbons. "Back in '65 I started this baking to help support my family. I never thought that 42 years later this business would still be providing for my family."

That's why Gibbons still shows up every now and then to sample the product.

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