A sign on the front of the building signals the location of a new Safety Harbor business, Bassano Cheesecake. (Photo/Walt Belcher)

The Boss and Don of Cheesecakes Coming to the Harbor

in news/town square

While many restaurants were closing or slowing down in March and April due to the COVID-19 virus, Tommy and Cindy Bassano were making plans to open a dessert cafe in Safety Harbor.

The couple, childhood friends from upstate New York, had opened their Bassano Cheesecakes as a mail-order business last spring.

Operating out of a catering kitchen in Oldsmar, the business quickly took off. They were looking to expand long before the pandemic slowed everything down.

Now, with Florida cautiously reopening businesses, they hope to get the Safety Harbor location up and running in June.

“There is always a worry when opening a new business,” says Cindy Bassano. “When we started the process the economy was thriving and social distancing was unheard of. Because of what is going on, we have no idea what the ‘new norm’ will be once everything opens back up fully.”

The Bassanos have made renovations to the small building here at the corner of Main Street and 5th Avenue North. For years, it was an antique shop. The building has been painted. A banner outside says “Coming Soon. Bassano Cheesecakes.”

Tommy Bassano. Photo courtesy of Bassano Cheescake.

Tommy Bassano said the new venture is exciting because they will be able see how people react when tasting the cheesecakes made from an old family recipe. That’s something you don’t get from a mail-order business.

“We take pride in making the second best authentic cheesecakes in the world,” he said.

Why second best? “Because you don’t disrespect your mother’s cheesecake. Capisce,” he explained, using the Bassano motto.

Cindy said the goal is to open with inside and outside tables, but that may depend on what will be allowed by then. 

“All we can hope is that all the positive feedback and warm welcomes we are receiving now will continue to grow,” she said. “We will be following all the new rules and training new employees to maintain a clean and safe environment for our new customers to feel safe and comfortable.”

Cindy said the goal is to open with inside and outside tables, but that may depend on what will be allowed by then. 

Cindy Bassano. Photo courtesy of Bassano Cheesecake.

“All we can hope is that all the positive feedback and warm welcomes we are receiving now will continue to grow,” she said. “We will be following all the new rules and training new employees to maintain a clean and safe environment for our new customers to feel safe and comfortable.”

Currently, places in Florida that serve food have health restrictions on capacity and social distancing due to the threat of the COVID-19 virus. 

The Bassanos said they will continue to run their Oldsmar location for baking and shipping. “We ship all over the country,” said Cindy. “For Mother’s Day I shipped out 55 cakes.”

At the Safety Harbor location, they will have whole cheesecakes, as well as cheesecake by the slice, along with coffee, cannolis, biscottis, and hard rolls. 

Tommy said they started making cheesecakes because it was difficult to find a good, authentic New York cheesecake – not even by mail order from New York. 

Cooking runs in the Bassano family. Tommy’s great grandfather, Pasquale Bassano, was an immigrant who settled in Yonkers, NY, in the early 1900s. Pasquale held a variety of jobs before opening Bassano Bakery. It was in business into the 1930s.   

Tommy said that out of Pasquale’s 16 children, his Aunt Clara became the “the greatest cook in the family.”  Tommy recalls Aunt Clara’s Thanksgiving meals where tables loaded with food were lined up and down the hallways. 

 And it is Aunt Clara’s recipes that inspired Tommy and Cindy to start their business.  

Tommy’s parents had lived in Poughkeepsie, Hyde Park before moving to Florida. Last year, he and Cindy went back to visit the old homestead in Yonkers.

While in New York, they sampled cheesecake from the famous Junior’s cheesecake bakery.   “We were disappointed,” said Cindy.  

Using Aunt Clara’s recipe, the couple made their own cheesecake. Cindy said that “on a whim” she joked that they could sell this kind of cheesecake themselves.  And so, they did. Cindy became “The Boss” and Tommy became “The Don” of cheesecakes. 

“It amazes me now that 22 percent of our business is shipping cheesecakes to New York,” said Tommy. 

He said Bassano cheesecakes are like snowflakes in that no two are alike because each is handmade. “Cheesecakes that are mass-produced just aren’t as good,” he said. 

Along with the classic New York cheesecake, they make more than 20 flavors including raspberry, tiramisu, strawberry, blueberry, fudge, salted caramel, Key lime and apple-crumb.

For more information visit https://bassanocheesecake.com 

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Walt spent 35 years as a reporter, feature writer. TV critic and columnist for The Tampa Tribune. Prior to that he worked in the public relations office at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and as a reporter for The Greenville (SC) News. He and his wife, Debbie, have lived in Safety Harbor for 10 years. He also taught media writing courses at the University of Tampa. Since moving here, he has been active with the Safety Harbor Art and Music Center, hosting a monthly storytelling night.