Tasty Cheesecakes Now Open at Manahawkin Mart; Owners’ Tale Is Bittersweet

Dec 20, 2017
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Tasty Cheesecakes, the newest shop to join the Manahawkin Mart retail community, opened earlier this month, against the odds.

For owner Alyson Cinquemani, the business is about much more than baking tantalizing confections: It’s about carrying out the wishes of her husband, Gene Filippino, and celebrating his legacy.

The couple moved to Manahawkin from Staten Island a year ago, after Cinquemani saved him from renal failure by giving him a kidney. After the surgery, they both required about six months’ recovery, during which time Filippino found solace in baking cheesecake. With the proverbial new lease on life, they decided to give up their careers in New York ­– his, a marketing business, hers, fitness club management – for a fresh start near the shore.

“I was terrified, but I went with it,” Cinquemani said. She got her real estate license and went to work for the Van Dyk Group. Filippino, meanwhile, nurtured his new passion and grew increasingly creative with his recipes. The idea to open a bakery began to take shape. They weren’t sure how they were going to do it, but they started shopping around for available spaces to rent. The spot inside the Manahawkin Mart was the right fit.

“Believe me, I did it afraid,” she said. They didn’t have a lump sum to use as startup capital.

Then, circumstances took a sudden dramatic turn. In August, while on his way to drop off cheesecake at the food pantry, Filippino felt a severe pain in his abdomen and went to the emergency room. In September he received the dire diagnosis of Stage 4 lung cancer. He spent three weeks in the hospital this fall, but surgery proved unsuccessful.

Cinquemani was bewildered. The store was already under construction, all their money was tied up in the new venture, the bills were already pouring in, and she had no idea how she would cope. Her strong Christian faith kept her going. Some people told her to abandon the project and run, but Cinquemani is made of tougher stuff. “I said ‘No. The devil is not going to win.’”

With credit line extensions and small business loans, she was able to purchase the rest of the equipment she needed to get up and running during his convalescence. Filippino gave her his lessons and revealed his secrets to making masterful cheesecakes, a skill she has refined with plenty of practice. (“I was an OK baker, not an elite baker like him. I threw out so much cream cheese at home, you don’t know.”)

Now the shop’s cheesecake products take the form of traditional and miniature cakes, frozen pops, all available with an array of toppings, cheesecake cannoli, tarts, coffee, cappuccino and iced tea.

The driving force to open, of course, has been so Filippino can see his dream come true. Friday, Dec. 8, the doors opened to the public. The process, while harrowing at times, has been Cinquemani’s lifeline, a way for her to work through her pain and grief.

“I don’t know where I’d be, mentally, if not for this store,” she said. “God is keeping me so busy, I don’t have time to get depressed.” Mid-conversation she was prepping the shop for the day and de-panning 48 minis. Filippino, meanwhile, has a home health aide so Cinquemani can be at the store when necessary. Though he has good days and bad days, she knows he is proud of her.

Combined, they have four grown kids and one granddaughter, ready to jump in and help make the bakery a success. “It’s amazing how many people came to help,” she said, referring to fellow members of Ocean Community Church, other friends and neighbors, and even random strangers she felt had been purposely put in her path. “This is the best town to live in,” she said. “This is where I belong.”

As for the future, Cinquemani is already thinking big: expansion to Toms River, a factory, a fleet of trucks, wholesale and online sales. As the caretaker of her husband’s dream, she refuses to give up.

“When people see me laughing, this is God’s doing,” she said.

— Victoria Ford

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