Jokers are wild

John Ralston and Ryan Poirier

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 partner, Ryan Poirier, when he gets home. That helps explain the name of the couple’s new business, The Joker’s Bakery, which offers 16 flavors of cheesecake, from eggnog to peanut butter and jelly. The 17th 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 are engaged to be married in September, decided to move closer to Ralston’s hometown of Corning. They moved to Chico last fall and intend eventually to open a brick-and-mortar shop, but for now they’re establishing themselves at local farmers’ markets, serving dessert at weddings and taking special orders. (Ralston handles the business side of things.) The Joker’s Bakery is off to a good start, having sold out of cheesecake when it debuted last month at the Thursday Night Market in downtown Chico. Go to or call (917) 885-8014 to place an order.

Why jokers?

Ralston: It’s mostly about my mom. She passed away about five 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.

Do you make anything else?

Poirier: He also makes cheesecake pops; he’ll take the cheesecake and dip it in chocolate, then decorate it with toasted coconut or nuts. Those are really good. He’s also working on cheesecake truffles. And the latest one, yet to be developed, is a push-up pop—multiple levels of different cheesecake flavors.

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.