A sweet year

The Joker’s Bakery

Ryan Poirier (left) and John Ralston

Ryan Poirier (left) and John Ralston

Photo by Howard Hardee

John Ralston likes practical jokes, and often waits behind the door to spook his husband, Ryan Poirier, when he gets home. That helps explain the name of the couple’s business, The Joker’s Bakery, which offers 22 flavors of cheesecake, from eggnog to peanut butter and jelly. The 22nd flavor is wild—any variety customers think up, Ralston will whip up. He’s been baking experimental cheesecakes as a hobby for more than 20 years, since attending the Culinary Institute of America in New York. He met Poirier a few years ago while living in Washington, D.C., and the partners, who married last September, decided to move closer to Ralston’s hometown of Corning. They opened The Joker’s Bakery last year and business has been good—they intend eventually to open a brick-and-mortar shop, but for now find their cakes at farmers’ markets as well as Almendra Winery, Bidwell Perk, The Handle Bar, Leon Bistro, The Lost Dutchman Taproom, Sweet Chico Confections and The Olive Pit in Corning. Go to www.thejokersbakery.com or call (917) 885-8014 to place an order.

Why jokers?

Ralston: It’s mostly about my mom. She passed away about six years ago. We would play cards all the time, just nonstop. I have a fascination with cards, and I like the jokers the best.

Poirier: He also likes to play jokes. Not only does it fit John’s passion and interest in cards, it’s also part of his personality.

What’s special about your cheesecake?

Ralston: A New York-style cheesecake is very dense and heavy. When you have a piece, you can really feel it in your stomach. Mine is lighter, fluffier, creamier. And I like to play with new flavors. I used to have 32 flavors, almost like Baskin-Robbins, you know? But I’ve cut it down. The one that’s really surprised me with its popularity is the peanut butter and jelly. I use a blackberry jelly and it’s been a big hit. Also, the flavors are very subtle and well-balanced. They’re very artisanal.

Poirier: White chocolate and lavender is another unique flavor—the lavender is sourced from the Bayliss Lavender Ranch in Biggs.

What will your shop be like?

Ralston: My vision is a place that is part coffee shop and serves dessert wine that pairs well with cheesecake or coffee. And there are going to be framed joker cards covering the walls all over.

How’s the first year in business been?

Poirier: It has truly been an incredible year! Chico and the surrounding area has opened its arms to The Joker’s Bakery and to both of us as well. We’ve developed amazing relationships with a number of local establishments who have started selling our mini cheesecakes. You can find our cheesecakes in about six different places in town.