What’s not to love about cheesecake?
Never left untouched at family get-togethers or holiday parties, the creamy dessert soothes the soul with its decadent filling and crunchy graham cracker crust. It’s easy to associate the unforgettable taste with the person who baked it, often a loving grandmother or grandfather with the power to achieve that perfect sweet-tangy balance like no one else.
In the Hudson Valley, Peter Brown is that grandfather. More specifically, he’s the grandfather with the mustache and the whiz behind Grandpa Moustache’s Cheesecakes in Washingtonville.
While Brown currently identifies as a self-taught cheesecake master, he got his start not in the kitchen, but in a navy blue policeman’s uniform. Born in Brooklyn, Brown joined the ranks as an NYPD officer and served for 20 years before eventually retiring as a sergeant and transitioning into private security work with a bomb dog. When it came time for the dog to retire, Brown faced a tough choice; he could either continue to commute to the city to work with another dog or pave a new path closer to home.
As Brown contemplated his decision, he looked to family and friends for inspiration. He began to experiment with new hobbies, one of them being baking for his family and friends. His wife, June, became his taste tester, and the two were eventually able to construct the perfect cheesecake recipe.
“People said that I should consider selling these cakes because it was the best cheesecake they ever had. So, I said, ‘Let’s give it a shot,’” Brown recalls.
In 2013, Brown began renting a commercial kitchen on West Main Street in Washingtonville. With his recipe and state-of-the-art location, he had all the ingredients to start a business except a name. Knowing that his business name should be catchy and fun, he looked to the youngest members of his family for help.
“My grandkids, whenever they would talk about their grandfather, my son would always say, ‘Which grandfather?’ And the kids would say ‘the one with the mustache,’ so that’s how they differentiated myself from their other grandfather, and that’s how it became Grandpa Moustache’s,” he explains.
With a name in hand, Grandpa Moustache’s was ready to make its mark on the cheesecake world. Beginning with competitions, Brown and his plain cheesecake placed first three years in a row in the New Jersey State Fair’s “Best Cheesecake” category, with a total of 13 ribbon awards over the years. His cakes have a presence in New York City, as Brown provides cakes for Bobby Van’s Steakhouses, and at Betty’s Country Kitchen in Washingtonville.
Grandpa Moustache’s Cheesecakes has grown so significantly over the years that Brown was even able to convince his wife to retire from nursing to work full-time at his Washingtonville store.
“After the competitions, business has really picked up. Between Christmas and Thanksgiving last year we did around 600 cakes, all different sizes and flavors,” Brown reveals.
To keep up with his orders, Brown uses two six-quart mixers to make the base and add toppings before refrigerating them for at least two hours. In addition to his original plain cheesecakes, he also whips up flavors like Bailey’s Irish Cream, key lime, pistachio, and always delicious peanut butter cup. All cakes are available in five-, seven-, or 10-inch rounds at the store, which operates as a pick-up-and-go model (special orders should call in advance).
With COVID-19 hitting local businesses hard, Brown was concerned at first. Fortunately, Grandpa Moustache’s Cheesecakes remained open during the pandemic by implementing curbside pickup. Its online store was also an asset, allowing Brown’s famous cheesecakes to be shipped all over the United States.
“It was unbelievable how busy we were. One time we had a line of people waiting that was about eight people deep,” Brown notes.
As orders for cheesecakes keep flooding in and work continues to grow. Brown contemplates his next steps. He’s considered adding a partner to help with the business end, since his end goal is to retire…for the second time.
“Our ultimate goal is to get down to Myrtle Beach sooner rather than later, [since] my wife and I have a condo there,” Brown says.
Grandpa Moustache’s Cheesecakes
32 W. Main St, Washingtonville