Overton stuck to burgers, salads, and sandwiches (alongside a slew of his mother's specialty cheesecakes, of course) and took measures to ensure he could still make anything on the menu, if needed. They featured home fries instead of French fries, for example, because he had never used a deep fryer before.
"We definitely had a fresh approach," he said, "but partly, that's because I didn't know what I was doing."
Over time, Overton realized he had a natural talent for for cooking, as well as running a restaurant in general. After a year of booming success running with their original menu, the Cheesecake Factory was looking to expand their offerings.
"When I ate at other restaurants during this time, I was able to take some of the more complex recipes, more expensive dishes, and bring them down to casual dining," he said. "I'd work on new menu items with a cook, behind the line. And as we kept expanding the menu, people kept responding positively."
Simply put: Overton and co. were throwing dishes at the wall (or more accurately, their customers) and hoping that they stuck.
And stick, they did.
"At this point, after a couple years, I was thinking that I didn't want this concept to run out, and I didn't want another restaurant to open down the block and take my business away. We just kept putting things on the menu, that people seemed to like. Finally, I thought, 'Well, there's nothing that America wants that we shouldn't be able to put on the menu.' So, we just kept at it."
So, as Overton put it, they "blew the menu out." They added Mexican dishes. They slotted in pastas and parms. They were down with literally anything that people could conceivably order. And it was all because they were trying to keep away any competition, from any restaurant, period. They turned into a veritable Babu's Dream Cafe, to make sure they had whatever Americans were craving at the time.
"I probably should have kept the menu slimmer, if I knew then what I know today… I had no idea we would become a chain, and would have to recreate this menu dozens of times," Overton said. "We put anything we wanted to on the menu. Every June and December we added new items. And we tried to stay current, adding any food items that happened to be trending at the time, and tried to keep pace with what America wanted.
Really, we're a 2018 restaurant, that started 40 years ago."