Dessert trucks are a necessity at any great event. Although these trucks are popping up across the country, many of the best ones are right here in New Jersey. For example, Maddalena’s CheeseCake & Catering began more than 35 years ago in Flemington, Hunterdon County. Starting as a small baking company, husband and wife Gene and Janet Maddalena made a big splash with their cheesecakes. Now, they’re one of The Best New Jersey Food Trucks.
The bakery soon took on servicing wedding receptions and catering for private and corporate events. Meanwhile, their mega-popular cheesecakes hit the shelves of many large retail supermarkets. Soon, the couple found they were spreading themselves too thin, and the business began to suffer. This led to a brief closing in the mid-1990s, and a quick revival shortly after.
In the early 2000s, Gene was diagnosed with cancer; though he passed away in 2009, his devotion to his family and business turned Maddalena’s into one of the most distinguished family businesses in the state. Shortly after Gene’s passing, the Maddalena’s food truck was born. The truck offers hot desserts for chilly days, cold items for warm weather and everything in between.
To learn more about Maddalena’s, check out our full interview with Janet Maddalena below.
The Best New Jersey Food Trucks Interview: Maddalena’s CheeseCake
Best of NJ: You and your husband, Gene, started Maddalena’s back in 1982. Tell us about the evolution from 1982 to now.
Janet Maddalena: We’ve been through a lot. We’ve done a lot. Cheesecake was supposed to be sort of a little side gig while we built up our catering business; and as we’ve gotten older we’ve focused much more on cheesecake.
The most important thing is the recipe is the same, the quality is the same; but we’ve done so many new things with it. Like how we take our cheesecake and put it between the two chocolate cookies like an ice cream sandwich. We do a cheesecake-filled cannoli and cheesecake on a stick. We do the cheesecake gelato, and now we’re doing the Keto cheesecake and Keto ice cream.
Finally, we have the REAL seal on our product, which means that it’s 100 percent real dairy.
A Strong Work Ethic
BONJ: Your husband kept continuously working through the years, and that type of work ethic cannot be overstated. So what different roles did he play in the business?
Janet: He did a little bit of everything. He was a chef who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America. So when we started our business, he wanted to be a caterer. I had absolutely zero experience in this business. I decorated all the wedding cakes. Now, I had never decorated the cake until we got into business, and he taught me. So everything I know, I learned from him or from experience of just doing and working.
Back in the day, Gene would start at one o’clock in the morning; he would go out and start mixing the batters. So he was splitting himself so many different ways, and he was such a shining star; he was a really special kind of guy with a special energy. He had a smile as big as you could imagine. And he was loved by everybody.
BONJ: What happened to Maddalena’s in the mid-1990s?
Janet: We closed in October 1995. Eventually, we’re at the end of the rope; and then our lawyer called and said, “Well, if I were you, I wouldn’t leave; because the bank just sold your papers to a group of investors from Omaha, Nebraska.”
A couple months later, the guy shows up, told Gene who he was, and they talked for hours. So we were back, but we said to ourselves we’re going to be a mom and pop. We don’t want this high-volume stuff. We know what our limitations are.
Opening a Storefront
BONJ: Your storefront in Ringoes, where you’ve lived and worked for many years, is relatively new. What made you open it up?
Janet: We thought it would be a great, simple way to sell some of our products. We really enjoy catering, and it’s a big part of Maddalena’s; but how many people who book you for a party of a hundred people do that every month or year? Sometimes it’s a once in a lifetime event. What we’re doing with the store is we’re building on the elements of our business that our customers love.
At the store, guests can get a number of dessert and food items without everything else that comes with catering; it’s easy for them to just stop in and grab a cheesecake or chicken pot pie or something else.
BONJ: What are your most popular types of cheesecakes?
Janet: Vanilla is always the most popular. It’s the original. Most people just say, “I want plain.” So that’s the most popular of our flavors.
Black Forest has also become very popular. It’s cherries swirled into vanilla cheesecake in a pan that’s been layered with chocolate crumbs. So that’s a nice one, too. And also, we’ve just started doing the red velvet cheesecake.
BONJ: What made you start the food truck?
Janet: When Gene died in 2009, the world was going through a tough time—the economy just was not good. And the boys, my sons Jeff and Gene, and I talked about if we should we keep the business going. I think because this is all we’ve ever done; my sons were born here on this property, and this was their world and mine. If I was really thinking, I probably would have just said it’s a good time to put it to bed; but for some reason we couldn’t do that. I had trouble doing it, mostly because I thought we should finish what he started; what he was unable to do. So a few years ago, we began the food truck part of our business.
The Food Truck Experience
BONJ: How many trucks does Maddalena’s operate?
Janet: We have two trucks that are open air and two that are closed. So if we have a cold day or a rainy day in the fall, we’ll take the closed truck. Otherwise, we’ll suffer if we don’t [laughs].
BONJ: What items can customers get off your truck?
Janet: Guests can get cheesecake on a stick, and then we dip it in chocolate. We make our own chocolate chip cookies and our own peanut butter cookies; and then we toast them and turn them into toppings. We have sprinkles, and we’ll do coconut toasted, and we also have Oreo cookie crumbs and mixed nuts.
We have the ‘chookie’ on the truck and the cheesecake-filled cannoli, which can also be dipped and topped. In addition, we also make a phenomenal apple crumb pie. Again, this is one of my husband’s recipes that we have left alone; fresh Granny Smith apples, no preservatives, and all-butter crust. We sell our apple pie at our store and in some restaurants, too. We do apple pie a la mode on the truck.
And then we make the cheesecake gelato, and we usually have about four or five different flavors on the truck. But we can make really whatever we feel like, which is kind of fun. We also do gluten-free cheesecake. So on the truck we almost always have little, individual three-ounce mini gluten-free cheesecakes. Moving forward, since now we make Keto items, I imagine we’ll carry mini Keto cheesecakes as well.
Additionally, we always have iced coffee and limeade on the truck. It’s simple, but it goes along great with what we offer.
Specialty Items and Where to Find Them
BONJ: So what items do you see flying out of your truck when you’re at events?
Janet: Cheesecake on a stick outsells everything. But sometimes, the warm apple pie we can’t keep up with, especially if it’s a cooler day. Then toppings popularity is funny, because one day everybody wants peanut butter, and then the next day everybody wants coconut.
BONJ: Where do you often travel for events?
Janet: We’ll do the Hunterdon County 4-H Fair, we’ll also go into Hopewell and Lambertville. We’ll visit Laurita Winery and Wilmington Delaware or Wildwood. We try not to go so far from home. It’s fun and it’s nice to travel, but it can be like gambling. I mean, if the weather is not good or something… you never know what could happen. So we’ve been trying to stay closer to home (in Ringoes), for the most part.
Want to find more of The Best New Jersey Food Trucks? Then check out The Best New Jersey Food Trucks: The Complete Series.