It was back in January when sisters Nikki Howard and Jaqui Wright found themselves furloughed and without income during the partial government shutdown.
Howard worked in human resources at the Food and Drug Administration, while Wright worked as an analyst for the Department of Justice.
“We had bills due and no paychecks coming in, including college tuition,” Wright said. “So we had to think fast.”
They quickly whipped up a plan to bring in extra income by selling homemade cheesecake.
“We took half a day to plan, and the rest is history,” Howard said.
Five months later, a lot has changed for the sisters behind ‘The Furlough Cheesecake’. Their story began to go viral shortly after ABC 7 first interviewed the pair in January. Then came an appearance on The Ellen Show, followed by online orders from all over the country.
“Almost instantly, we had thousands of orders,” said Wright. “I was trying to think how we were going to make a hundred, and then we got requests for thousands.”
The company grew so quickly, Howard and Wright were soon able to quit their jobs at the federal government. Not long after that, they started renting industrial kitchen space so they’d have more room to work and fill orders.
And now – their cheesecakes will soon be for sale at Walmart.
“We’re so very excited we’re able to share a little slice of smile,” said Howard. “Walmart! The Walmart! Our cheesecakes will be there in August!”
Starting August 18, their cheesecakes will hit the shelves of about a hundred Walmart stores throughout the DMV.
“These are small personal size, three inch size, not our full-size cheesecakes,” Wright said. “So those who’ve been asking for individual serving sizes, you can go to Walmart and get that.”
Their cheesecakes are also now featured on the menu at the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Club.
“I mean, if we had to write the story, I don’t think I have this much imagination,” Howard said. “We just went for it. And the blessing is, we had each other.”
Looking back, the sisters say there are a lot of parallels between perfecting a recipe and building a business. They say they’ve certainly learned some lessons along the way.
“When you’re building a recipe, you have to try some things and maybe it doesn’t work quite the way you wanted it, so then you tweak it and perfect it until it’s just right,” Howard said. “And with your business, there are times things don’t go exactly the way you want them to go. But, make a few tweaks and keep going. You learn!”
On Tuesday, they thanked friends, family members, and even strangers throughout the DMV, who supported their business along the way.
As for the name of their company, Howard and Wright say, “The Furlough Cheesecake” is here to stay.
“Because it means something,” Wright said. “You know, we were furloughed, but now we’re in control of our destiny. So we couldn’t let go of the name.”