Father-daughter BYU alums sweeten up Provo with cheesecake shop

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With two shops in Provo and two more in Salt Lake Valley, this family-owned bakery and dessert shop believes it has sweets you can keep coming back to.

However, before Momo’s Gourmet Cheesecake was Momo’s Gourmet Cheesecake, it was one BYU alum’s tasty hobby.

Momo’s Gourmet Cheesecake is a family-owned business. The name comes from Maurine Herman’s childhood nickname, “Momo.” (Octavio Avila)

After graduating from BYU in 2012 and celebrating the birth of her first child, Maurine Herman was craving something for herself.

“I didn’t have any idea what that was going to be. But my family loves cheesecake, especially my dad. So that’s something that like, we enjoyed to get, but there’s not really a lot of places to get it. Not a lot of places do good cheesecake,” Herman said.

After making cheesecake for the first time ever for a party of delighted guests, Herman had the idea to start selling cheesecake to her friends and family.

“Word started to spread, so I started to get more and more orders. And then I started doing weddings … and so we were kind of at that point where it’s getting a little too big for the house.”

That’s when Herman’s father, Octavio Avila, asked if she would want to try and make this cheesecake gig into a legitimate business.

“I mean, here in Utah, people are always eating sugar. So I don’t know that it was ready for a cheesecake. They’re ready for dessert,” Avila said.

Avila shared his impressions about Utah’s sweet tooth culture.

Avila had his first cheesecake when he was at college in Texas, which contributed to the family’s love of the dessert.

“I was staying with a family and the mom made a cheesecake with a cherry topping,” he said. “And I just thought that was the greatest dessert ever. And it was just a jello brand.”

Avila and his wife wanted to help Herman and her family move into a bigger place, so they ended up investing money in the business, he said.

“We were not millionaires. So I said, I have $10,000 that I can allocate to this. So we looked about, you know, how much it costs to lease a place and to do all of that stuff. And with $10,000, you cannot, you know, open up a shop like this,” he said.

This led to Herman and Avila renovating an RV into a food truck, something that Avila said would typically cost between $50,000 and $100,000. Their DIY food truck ran them around $15,000.

“You can find just about anything you want to learn on YouTube if you’re willing. There’s so much that you can learn. I didn’t know anything about food trucks,” Avila said.

After finding rapid success in their food truck, Herman and Avila, along with the other members of their family, decided it was time to expand yet again.

The first shop was opened in Provo in 2020. They said their main goal was to find a location that was not too expensive.

Momo’s Gourmet Cheesecakes went from being made in a home to a food truck to a shop. There are now four locations with more than 20 employees. (Octavio Avila)

“We found something that was 700 square feet and the rent was $900. So I thought, ‘Okay, we got to sell about this much per month to break even,’ In the first month, we almost doubled it. So I thought, ‘Okay, this is going to be okay,’” Avila said. 

From there, Momo’s Gourmet Cheesecake enjoyed continued success, even through the COVID-19 pandemic, Herman said.

“I think as people have tried our cheesecake, the fact that we don’t do huge slices, the fact that they’re in little cups, we change the weekly flavors … it’s something that you can come back and have more often than just a special occasion,” Herman said.

Having both graduated from BYU, the father-daughter business partners said college was instrumental in giving them the skills necessary to start and run a business together.

“College pushes you in a lot of different ways and skills, not necessarily like what you learned in the classroom, but the skills of being able to do the projects, being able to do things out of your comfort zone,” Herman said.

Avila, who graduated from the accounting program, always hoped he could someday have a business of his own. He couldn’t have imagined that business being this, he said.

“If you’re starting a business to make money, that might not be the right incentive or motivation long term, you need to have another purpose, I think,” Avila advised prospective entrepreneurs. “Her purpose, her goal was to create a dessert that people would love and be blown away by. That really is her goal.” 

As a family-owned business, it’s important to lean on the community, Herman said.

“I know, so many of the other bakery, business owners, food truck owners and everyone is willing to talk and, you know, share their knowledge and what they have learned,” she said.

There are five classic cheesecake flavors that are always available in the shop. Herman also crafts new flavors that rotate weekly. (Octavio Avila)

BYU student London Stringham said she believes it’s very important for people to support small businesses.

“I love supporting small businesses in Provo … It’s so cool to see them working towards giving a good experience. You just have to go and support them,” she said.

Herman and Avila also value the role of small businesses and recognize the need for the community to support them.

The average restaurant’s revenue has dropped 30% from last year, Avila said.

“I mean, we’re trying to survive this. I don’t know how long this economic thing is gonna last. And by them coming in and supporting that financially so that we can stay in business is huge,” he said.

With small businesses, owners are putting their everything into it, whereas corporations do not have the same connection to their shop, Herman said.

“I know that sometimes the small businesses are more expensive,” she said. “That’s because we don’t have millions of dollars behind us to do that, but I think that it is our passion, we truly want for the customers to have a good experience and a good product.”

Cheesecake-lovers can find a location near them at Momo’s Gourmet Cheesecake’s website.

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