Imagine silky, homemade cheesecake sandwiched between two freshly baked cookies. That incredible dessert mashup is what Bayside resident Lisa Cotoggio has christened as Grandma’s Cheesecake Sandwiches, a business that was born out of a desire to be her own boss and escape sexual harassment in the workplace.
Cotoggio has always been a baker, recalling her childhood playing with her beloved EZ Bake Oven and spending time in the kitchen from a young age. Her grandmother’s cheesecake recipe came to mind during the early stages of trying to come up with a sustainable business. The light and fluffy dessert was always a hit with anyone who had the pleasure of tasting it.
Before making her first foray into starting a business, Cotoggio had worked in several industries where she experienced sexual harassment. She recalled getting fired in 1985 by her employer after refusing his sexual advances. She subsequently took the case to court and won the case against her former employer.
Whether she worked in hospitality, sales or the restaurant industry, she said, sexual harassment would follow. The business owner said that she frequently switched jobs as a result of the harassment she faced but adds that she had always reported these incidents to higher-ups.
Most recently, she filed a lawsuit against Mercedes Benz in Massapequa, Long Island after a coworker had groped her. That incident was the final push she needed.
“In January I thought, ‘I needed to start a business.’ I wasn’t gonna put up with it,” Cotoggio said.
At first, she had the idea to sell her grandmother’s cheesecakes by the slice — she tweaked the recipe and asked hundreds of people to try it. She recalls the time she encountered a “cheesecake connoisseur” at the Whitestone Firehouse who told her that it was some of the best cheesecake he had ever had.
Eventually, she realized that selling slices of cheesecake was not practical and got the idea to stick the creamy confection between graham crackers, which later evolved into cookies. Cookie flavors include plain, milk chocolate, chocolate chip and amaretto for the holiday season.
Cotoggio said that she does all of her baking at Cardinali Bakery in Carle Place. The owner Giuseppe Maura is a friend who allows her to use the facility and enlist the help of his employees.
Her intention was to open up a food truck, but learned that the city had applications dating back over 10 years that they still needed to fulfill. Instead, Cotoggio sells the confections at local grocery stores in eastern Queens including Empire Market and Benateri’s in College Point, Varsi Deli in Whitestone, Marino’s Supermarket in Flushing and Robert’s Butcher Shop in Bayside.
Her products are also available online and can ship to the tri-state area. A pack of six sandwiches costs about $36 plus shipping and tax.
Earlier this week, the entrepreneur had the opportunity to work with Resorts World Catskills, which gave out 1,000 of the treats to Player’s Club Members aged 55 and older. She said that the company will also be distributing 1,000 of the cheesecake sandwiches to “Prime 55” members on Tuesday, Oct. 30.
Her ultimate goal is to expand her business and open up her own store. She shares that she wants to be able to employ women and make it a safe space for them to work. Her message to women who have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace is “you don’t have to stay.”
“Other women find themselves in situations that they can’t get out of. But you don’t have to put up with this stuff,” Cotoggio said.
For more information, visit grandmascheesecakesandwiches.com.