It was a deep affinity for chocolate that turned Danelle Bentley from a hater of cream cheese to someone who made a career of baking with it.
“I’ve never liked the flavor of cream cheese. I’m a really picky eater. That’s why I had to work my own magic in it, put this and that in it, including chocolate. It took several tries to get something I liked,” she explained.
That was more than a decade ago. Bentley left a law enforcement career to start her first bakery in DuPont in 2004, but that only lasted two years.
More recently, she decided to make another go of a new dessert business, D’Lectable Desserts. This time she skipped the retail business and stuck with selling direct to the public through the Puyallup Farmers Market and restaurants such as Arista in Puyallup.
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We reached out to Bentley to ask about her business and her hatred-turned-affinity for cream cheese.
Q: People know you for your cheesecake, but do you make other desserts, too?
A: When I had my retail shop, I had cakes, pies, cookies and breads for awhile. The store was in DuPont. It was called Dee’s Licious Gourmet Cheesecakes Etc. It’s where I made my first version of the cheesecake bars.
Q: When did you open that store?
A: Let’s see. Kayla (Bentley’s daughter) was 2, so back in 2004. We had that until 2006.
Q: You mentioned you closed that bakery so you could return to a job with benefits. What was your career?
A: I went to work at the King County Sheriff’s Office. I was a police officer before that. I left that job to be a stay-at-home mom, but I started the business in DuPont for extra income. I had left a good income. Thankfully, I had law enforcement to fall back on.
Q: You were a police officer before you opened the bakery?
A: Yes, I was a Tacoma police officer.
Q: And you grew up in Tacoma, right?
A: Yes, I lived in the area around South 14th and Cedar. I went to Wilson High School.
Q: How did you go from arresting bad guys to baking cheesecakes?
A: It’s a stressful job. The typical stuff police officers do to relieve stress is all over the place, but I would bake. I started baking cheesecakes and cookies. I would take things into work. It was always therapy to me, a stress reliever. When I left the job full time, I would still make desserts all the time for functions. People would always say, “Gosh, you need to sell these.” I always thought nobody would buy my cheesecakes.
Q: But they did?
A: It was all word of mouth in the beginning. People would call the house and say, “I had your dessert at a party; can you make me one?”
Q: But you never really liked cream cheese. How did you wind up being so good at making a dessert that is primarily made from an ingredient you disliked?
A: I love chocolate, let me just say that. I saw a recipe for a chocolate cheesecake. I thought it sounded horrible, but it had chocolate in it. I still hate cream cheese, but I turn it into something fabulous for my desserts.
Q: So it was chocolate that sucked you to the dark side?
A: Yes, I made it my own way, and it was really good.
Q: I know you make many kinds of cheesecakes — from berry to chocolate to key lime — but I’m intrigued by the cheesecake bars you sell at the farmers markets and at Puyallup public concerts. You started making those at your bakery?
A: Yes, that was toward the end of the bakery. I thought I could put them on a stick and sell them. I called them Dee’s Cake Bars.
Q: How do you make your frozen cheesecake bars?
A: You bake the cheesecake, slice it, then stick it, then dip it. You do have to freeze and refreeze. It’s a long process. It’s very time consuming. I’d love to come up with a design to make it more efficient, but that’d require a machine. Right now, the bars are never going to look exact. When you’re hand-making everything, you shape it all differently. The chocolate dries a little different; it’s never the exact same look each time.
Q: Is that why you can’t put your dessert bars in stores? Because they don’t have that perfect look?
A: My goal is put it into stores, but you have to have it machined, but it still has to have a good flavor. Instead of putting it into stores, I’m going to focus on having groups sell the cheesecake bars for fundraisers, whether through a PTA or fundraising or Boy Scouts or something like that. I want to focus on that. It’s new, it’s not something that has been seen out there. I think that’d be a good product to raise money for groups and organizations.
Q: You’re a stickler for high-quality ingredients; can you talk about that?
A: I use a high-quality chocolate for my chocolate cheesecakes. For my berry cheesecakes, I’m using fresh raspberries from Spooner Farms. I love spring and summer dessert making because I love fresh berries. Come September, I’ll be making caramel-apple cheesecake, and I’ll be using local Granny Smith apples. I don’t ever use canned fruit products. If it’s not something I get fresh, I don’t use it.
Q: What kind of lessons did you learn from your first business that you’ve adopted for your second business?
A: I started this business a whole different way this time. Last time, I didn’t know how to run a business. I didn’t watch costs. I got into it for something to do. This time, I’ve taken a much more businesslike approach. I’m not out buying brand new equipment; I’m buying used equipment. I’ve learned from the last experience
Q: What else have you learned?
A: I’ve learned to take things slow. I don’t need everything right now. I don’t need the finest equipment to start. I also started to fairly price my desserts. With my wholesale prices before, I had the prices too low. I thought I needed to sell at a much lower cost to beat the huge companies that can produce things for $3 a cheesecake. I can’t do that, obviously. Mine is much better quality. I realized my quality is at a level that I can charge for the value of it now.
need to know
Find cheesecake at: Arista Restaurant in Puyallup; Saturdays at Puyallup Farmers Market at Pioneer Park; Thursdays at Puyallup’s Concerts in the Park series at Pioneer Park.
Cheesecake flavors: Traditional, triple chocolate, berry, key lime, peanut butter chocolate chunk, chocolate nut caramel chunk, turtle, Nutella, Irish cream and more.
Cheesecake bars: Traditional, double chocolate, key lime, cookies and cream.