It all started with Warren Buffett.
That’s how Tullahoma resident Susan Eckles describes her journey to self-publish a cheesecake cookbook.
Eckles has been hand-crafting her cheesecakes for over two decades and has toyed with the idea of the cookbook for nearly as long, but it wasn’t until last April that she finally embarked on that cookbook crusade.
The way Eckles tells it, she and her husband George were watching a documentary on the successful business magnate from Omaha, Nebraska, a couple years ago.
“I was intrigued by this man from Omaha who was so wealthy and charitable,” she said. After it was over, Eckles was struck by Buffett’s message to always do things you enjoy doing.
“I thought how I’d been wanting to do this, so he gave me the push,” Eckles said.
She then reached out to friends to see if anyone knew of any food photographers and was put in contact with Jill Mansfield, the woman behind Grass Roots Photography.
After staging a short one-afternoon test session, Eckles and Mansfield formed a great partnership, with Mansfield coming over to Eckles’s home every weekend for several months to photograph different cheesecakes in the hopes of putting the best cake forward for the book.
Eckles had plenty of help from friends and family, with her daughter, Renee, connecting Susan with an editor who helped fine tune the recipes and spell check Susan’s work. After toiling over revised recipes and multiple re-shoots of some of the cakes, Eckles said all the work was put together and sent to Ingram Content Group in La Vergne.
Finally, after nine months of hard work, Susan saw her dream come true. After checking Amazon’s book listings over and over again, “Susan’s Cheesecakes” came up in a search in late 2018.
“I wanted to see it so badly, so every day I would check Amazon,” she said. “Then one day there it was!”
After seeing her book on the Amazon list, she then decided to try some book sellers like Barnes and Noble and Books-A-Million. Lo and behold, her book was listed there, as well.
Eckles’s cheesecakes are no stranger to the people of Tullahoma and beyond.
Anyone who has ever ordered a slice of cheesecake from London’s Sports Bar & Grill downtown has already tasted a palate-pleasing morsel of Eckles’.
Her sons, Joseph Keller and Nick Walluck, are the owner and kitchen manager, respectively, of the well-known downtown bar - and she has been providing the desserts for the bar’s kitchen for the last several years.
In fact, most of the ideas for her cheesecakes come from London’s customers, she said.
Eckles takes multiple cheesecake flavors to the restaurant on a regular basis – anywhere from two every other day to two every day, depending on the demand – talking to the kitchen staff and soliciting ideas from the customers themselves.
She said she frequently gets asked to make cheesecakes based on one or two main ingredients and then figures up a recipe on her own.
Luckily, she said, cheesecake is highly adaptable.
“Cheesecake is almost like tofu – you can create anything,” Eckles said. “You can take someone’s favorite cookie or candy bar and create a cheesecake. I get a lot of recipes from other people’s imaginations.”
Once upon a time, Eckles was even the main cheesecake baker for Emil’s restaurant in the early days of that business, but life got too hectic and she had to step back.
Despite stepping back from regular work with Emil’s, Eckles is still producing custom cheesecakes for the people of Tullahoma, both through individual slices at London’s and more.
Eckles said she still takes special orders for whole cheesecakes through the staff at London’s.
“If there’s somebody who wants their own cheesecake, they can call London’s and [London’s] will call me, and I’ll have it down there for them [the customer] to pick up,” she said.
She even has a special kind of delivery box for the special orders. According to Eckles, all the cheesecakes to be served as individual slices at London’s are packaged in white boxes for the kitchen staff. All custom orders for whole cheesecakes are delivered to the bar in pink boxes. This, she said, ensures no cheesecake goes to the wrong destination.
In total, Eckles estimates she has around 75 different cheesecake flavors in her arsenal, though she only selected 30 for the cookbook.
Some of the flavors in the book are flavors that can be enjoyed year-round, while some take a more seasonal approach, such as her take on a Red Velvet cheesecake that she calls “Dead Velvet.”
Sugar-glass shards pierce raspberries on top of the cake, forming a gruesome and ghoulish look for Halloween. Other seasonal flavors include Orange Cream Pop, which Eckles said is popular around spring and summer.
Each cheesecake featured in the book has a full recipe, including any extras such as the sugar shards for the Dead Velvet cheesecake. A lovely image, provided by Mansfield, accompanies each entry.
“Susan’s Cheesecakes” is available on Amazon, as well as Barnes and Noble and Books-A-Million.
Not only does each sale of her book help make the kitchen a more decadent space, it also helps children in need. Eckles said she has a portion of her profits donated to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.
In publishing her own cookbook, Eckles has reached out to some of the Nashville-based news organizations and talk shows, such as NewsChannel 5 and “Pickler & Ben.”
Although she’s been on Tullahoma’s own Channel 6 multiple times for short cooking segments, Eckles said she was both excited and nervous for her next big TV spot.
On March 28, Eckles will be featured on NewsChannel 5’s “Talk of the Town” segment to bake a cheesecake live on air.
She has also reached out to the producers of “Pickler & Ben,” the Nashville-based talk show featuring Kellie Pickler and Ben Aaron. As of press time, she still hadn’t heard whether she would be featured on their show.
It all comes back to Buffett
Not hearing from “Pickler & Ben” is of no consequence, however, as she already has a game plan for her Channel 5 segment. Eckles said she is going to make her coconut cream cheesecake for Channel 5.
The reasoning, she said, was because that was the cheesecake she made for Warren Buffett himself.
“The first copy that I got in the mail … I sent directly to Warren Buffett in Omaha with a note saying he inspired me, [that] his name is mentioned on page one [and] that I wanted him to have my book,” Eckles said.
In her note, she told Buffett to look through the book and pick out a cheesecake that “made his mouth water,” and let her know. Whichever cake he picked, she said, she would be “honored to make him the cheesecake of his choice.”
That cheesecake, she said, was the coconut cream. A week later, she received a handwritten letter from Buffett congratulating her on her book and requesting the coconut cream cheesecake.
“I was jumping up and down all over the house,” she said.
After celebrating, Eckles said she got to work on the cake, packed it into a container with some dry ice and sent it to Buffett via two-day shipping.
This took place around December, which led to Eckles receiving a priceless Christmas gift, she said.
“The day after Christmas, his secretary texted me that Warren Buffett gave me an A-plus on my cheesecake, and he thoroughly enjoyed it,” she said. “I was real happy about that.”
If Eckles has learned anything throughout the process of publishing her own cookbook, it’s that Warren Buffett has the right idea.
“You have to reach out there,” she said. “You can’t be intimidated. Everybody is extremely special. You have to know, ‘I’m just as good as anybody, and if I want to talk to Warren Buffett, then I’ve got to start the conversation’.”
Erin McCullough may be reached at email@example.com.