Zanze’s Cheesecake, a 42-year-old bakery in San Francisco’s Ingleside Terrace that served, per Food and Wine, one of the best cheesecakes in America, has closed for good, the daughter of its founder says. It’s a blow to dessert fans across the city, all of whom have long-dreaded the retirement of the bakery’s founder, 87-year-old Sam Zanze.
Zanze opened his Ocean Avenue bakery in 1978, with a plan to sell cheesecake, but not just any cheesecake: His version is remarkable for its light, soufflé-like texture, and its lack of crust. Patrons flocked to the spot for the cakes — which he made from whole milk, eggs, cream cheese, and sugar — leading to long lines during holidays like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Valentines Day, and their fame as one of the city’s most iconic dishes.
And cheesecake was the only thing Zanze sold. Speaking with Food and Wine, Zante said, “All you need is one good item and it can work, as long as it is very good.” That’s why the menu at Zanze’s was as short as its lines were long, with options like cherries, berries or chocolate shavings, but that’s about it. The cake was good enough that frills seemed unnecessary, and popular enough that orders had to be placed at least a day in advance.
In a 2007 profile by local journalist Bonnie Wach, Zanze (then a spring chicken of 74) said that he learned his craft from his father, “a pastry chef who started with German bakers.” After World War II, his dad “ran a dinner club in Santa Cruz...and he was always experimenting with the cheesecake recipe to get it just right.” After his dad retired in the 1970s, Zanze opened his own bakery, a small storefront at 2405 Ocean Avenue.
He’s been on the job ever since, churning out about 50 cheesecakes a day, four days a week, he told Eater SF during a visit in January. When the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place order dropped on March 16, he closed up shop “indefinitely,” he said at the time.
According to Zanze’s daughter, Andrea Cusenbery, Zanze’s has since shuttered for good. In a Facebook post that’s generated over 100 nostalgic comments, she confirmed that the spot “won’t be open for retail business anymore.” It’s unclear if a non-retail deal is in the works — frozen versions of Zanze’s cheesecakes could sometimes be found at the Molly Stone’s at 635 Portola Drive (longstanding San Franciscans might better know the store as “Tower Market”), and it’s as-yet unknown if Zanze plans on completely retiring, or if his multitudes of passionate fans might still be able to score one of his flourless cakes in the frozen aisle.
Update: May 28, 2:46 p.m.: According to the SF Chronicle, Zanze says “I’m not retiring, but I’m not going to be open for retail.” He’s hoping to continue his wholesale business, the Chron reports, but is “still working out the details.”