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Mourn Macy’s, but the true loss is the Cheesecake Factory

A person walks past the entrance to The Cheesecake Factory, with a menu displayed and an escalator inside.
Can’t we have nice things anymore? Just because Macy's is calling it quits doesn't mean we have to lose the slice of Americana on the eighth floor. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

Guilty admission: When news broke this week of the planned closing of Macy's historic Union Square store, my first thought was not about losing the 80% off clearance rack on Tommy Hilfiger turtlenecks. It was about losing the Cheesecake Factory.

Since the retailer owns the building, Macy’s exit might spell an end for the oft-ridiculed yet wildly successful restaurant it hosts. You can take the Burberry or Balenciaga, but please, I beg you, leave the complimentary brown bread. 

Cheesecake Factory army rise up. Alongside musings about what Macy’s closure means for San Francisco’s downtown or Mayor London Breed’s reelection, a major current of the public response has been an outpouring of love for the slice of Americana on the eighth floor of the iconic store.

“Real ones know Macy’s was nothing more than the stairs to the Cheesecake Factory,” one tweet read. “You can take Macys, Nordstrom, Old Navy, Westfield, and Whole Foods…But don’t take the Cheesecake Factory,” read another. “Can we have a ballot measure to prevent the Cheesecake Factory from closing at least,” a local architect wrote.

Two people gaze at a brightly-lit pastry display in a cozy bakery with warm ambient lighting.
The last and only Cheesecake Factory in San Francisco could close alongside Macy's in Union Square because the retailer owns the building. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

While Macy’s employees discovered they were going to be out of a job at a team meeting, The Cheesecake Factory employees perched above have yet to hear anything from their managers about how the news might impact them, several servers and hosts said during a recent afternoon visit. 

Representatives of the Southern California-based company did not immediately respond to requests for comment. But San Francisco employees during lunch service Wednesday are taking solace in the fact Macy’s exit will reportedly still take years to complete. 

My server said she’s worked at this location for over a decade. “It’s a good gig,” she said. “Maybe I should have been looking for a new job all this time, but why leave something where I know exactly what I’m going to get?”


Retail might be at a crossroads, but Cheesecake is not. Coming out of the pandemic, the company reported a record $3.3 billion in revenue in 2022 and closed out last year doing comparable numbers. In its last quarter, sales totaled $877 million, beating Wall Street estimates and spurring the company to open nine new locations, including its first in Thailand.

A man and woman are embracing on a balcony overlooking a cityscape.
Nathaniel Bilyeu, left, and Samir Torres, right, enjoy the view of Union Square from the outdoor patio of the Cheesecake Factory. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

That means a business plan based on stubbornly maintaining a slightly vulgar Vegas/Egyptian-style decor and a gargantuan War and Peace-sized menu is paying off. 

For years, the San Francisco location—as online reminiscences can attest—has played host to innumerable boozy birthday celebrations, awkward first dates and anxious pre-prom dinners. During my visit this week, the customer base was made up mainly of older San Francisco shoppers and a segment of Union Square security guards and salespeople needing a reliable place for big portions of comfort food.   

The Cheesecake Factory has been a San Francisco stalwart for nearly a quarter-century after opening in 2000. Even back then, the restaurant was breaking barriers. It was one of the first places in the city to feature a rooftop patio dining area, according to Kazuko Morgan, a retail broker at Cushman & Wakefield with decades of experience in Union Square.

“[Cheesecake] was up there with Apple, Victoria's Secret or Abercrombie in that every mall wanted one,” Morgan recalled. “Getting them sort of validated you. They were going to the best places in the world.” 

The sweet taste of nostalgia 

Suppose the Cheesecake Factory does end up closing its doors in Union Square. In that case, the nearest locations are either across the Golden Gate Bridge in Corte Madera or down the Peninsula in San Mateo. 

Sometimes, we only truly appreciate things once they’re at risk of disappearing. 

The image shows a warm-lit, upscale restaurant with patrons and chefs, large pendant lamps, and ornate decor.
For those keeping score, a business plan based on maintaining a slightly vulgar Vegas/Egyptian-style decor is paying off for the Cheesecake Factory, which just beat Wall Street expectations in its last earnings report. | Source: Estefany Gonzalez/The Standard

I’m proud to say I was there from nearly the beginning while growing up in San Jose. Since traditional steakhouses or Michelin-starred restaurants were out-of-reach for my family, the Cheesecake Factory was our first taste of fine-ish dining in the Bay Area.  

So, allow me to bask in nostalgia. On Wednesday, I treated myself to the ol’ reliable Steak Diane, beef medallions smothered in a wine sauce made with peppercorns and mushrooms—an ultra-luxe “lunch” that only the Factory could provide. If my mom were beside me, I know she’d be raving about the Miso Salmon she’s ordered dozens of times like it's a new item that just dropped yesterday.

After I wrapped up my meal, Rob and Jane Jackson took a seat at the bar. They made the pilgrimage to San Francisco from York, England. In addition to Fisherman’s Wharf and Alcatraz, they had on their list a visit to the eighth floor of Macy’s for a 3 p.m. cocktail and a slice of key lime cheesecake—one of 40 dessert options—before their flight home. 

“We don’t have a place like this in the U.K.,” Jane Jackson said with a slightly wistful air. “It’d be a shame if they closed it.”

Yes, it would.

Three people dressed as Santa Claus share a laugh outside a Cheesecake Factory.
Long live the Factory and its special elevator. | Source: Michaela Vatcheva for The Standard