Dessert angel

Chico waitress creates cheesecakes to die for at Broadway Heights

Long-time Chico waitress Dawn McGaffick has served locals for 30 years, and baked their cheesecakes for the past five.

Long-time Chico waitress Dawn McGaffick has served locals for 30 years, and baked their cheesecakes for the past five.

Photo By karen o’neill

Broadway Heights California Cuisine

300 Broadway St.
Chico, CA 95928

(530) 899-8075

On the menu at Broadway Heights, the popular restaurant that overlooks the corner of Broadway and Third streets in downtown Chico, there is a picture of the most perfect-looking cheesecake imaginable. When the waitress comes over to take our order, I ask her if the cheesecake is as good as it looks in the picture.

“It’s even better,” she says. “I make it myself.”

“Well, who should I ask to get an unbiased opinion,” I joke, since joking with waitresses is de rigueur for aging men.

“You’re just going to have to find out for yourself,” she says.

And I do. And it is. Better than its picture. A perfect cheesecake. Light, creamy, irresistibly delicious. Like eating a cloud.

Dawn McGaffick is the woman who made it, and who served it. She’s been serving Chico diners for a long time. Before coming to work at Broadway Heights six years ago, she worked just down the street at Cory’s, a fondly remembered lunch spot missed by most everyone who ever ate there.

If you’ve been around these parts for a while, there’s a good chance Dawn has waited on you, brought you food when you were hungry, drink when you were thirsty, and just maybe the best cheesecake you ever tasted, if you were smart enough to have ordered it.

What makes a perfect cheesecake? According to the woman who baked this one, perfection comes from the love that goes into them. “My cheesecakes,” she says, “are made with a combination of love and a recipe that includes whipping cream and sour cream in addition to the cream cheese. Not to brag, but I think that one other thing that makes my cheesecakes really good is they’re handmade one at a time.”

McGaffick added baking to her repertoire of skills almost accidentally. She is a single mom, with twin sons she obviously adores. Though they are twins, they aren’t always alike, and when it came time for her to bake a birthday cake on the occasion of the boys’ ninth birthday, one of them wanted a vanilla cake, and the other wanted chocolate. She went out to buy cake pans so she could accommodate both requests. By mistake, she bought two cheesecake pans. “I didn’t really know the difference,” she says, “and I really didn’t know that much about baking, either.”

But the black-and-white cake she made turned out very well, not only pleasing her two boys, but also wowing her assembled guests. At work the next day, she mentioned how well her cake had gone over, and her boss encouraged her to try baking for paying customers. She’s been doing it ever since, experimenting with new concoctions and perfecting her standby recipes.

Photo By karen o’neill

She’s been baking for customers for five years now, but she’s been serving food for 30 years. “I started at a drive-in in Corning as a teenager,” she says, “but I was in the biz for 18 years before I realized why I loved it. When I went to work for Cory, she taught me to give the customers a little piece of myself. People have to eat, of course, but if you can offer them a little more—a smile, a pleasant demeanor, something that adds to the dining experience, something that makes people feel welcome—that makes them want to come back. I love to feed people. I love to connect with people.”

McGaffick’s love of her work continued when she moved down the street to begin waiting tables for Paul and Shannon Lavery, the couple who own and manage Broadway Heights.

“After Cory closed her doors, they invited me on board, and we made a kind of spiritual connection,” she says. “Paul and Shannon have this magical partnership, and they extend that kind of freedom to me. We’re just a family there, and it’s an atmosphere I just love. If you walk into that restaurant and don’t feel the love, then you’ve missed the experience of eating there.”

McGaffick says she’s “probably made a thousand cheesecakes in lots of off-the-wall flavors” over the years, and a slice of her beer-tinged chocolate cake awaits my next visit to that downtown corner. If it’s half as good as her cheesecake, it’s bound to be worth another trip.