Jack Leach, a student at Oconee County Middle School, has a real sweet tooth when it comes to crafting his award-winning cheesecakes. He enjoys experimenting with candies like Reese’s to craft his custom creations.
“He likes to make them like he would like to eat them,” said his father, Brent.
Jack runs his own cheesecake business, Jack’s Cheesecakes, along with winning the first-place dessert award at this year’s Taste of Oconee.
Jack, who is autistic and non-verbal, loves to help his family cook, especially his grandmother Donnie.
“Donnie always made these really good cheesecakes,” Brent said. “She started making them with all the kids, and Jack sort of really took a shine to it.”
A couple of months ago, Jack discovered some red and black cheesecake pans he really admired, and Donnie bought him the pans to get him started on his cheesecake-baking journey.
“It might take a little extra to train him, but once he knows, he knows how to do it right,” Brent said.
Around Christmas, Jack’s teacher, Audrey Norman, launched the Braves Bean coffee cart to sell coffee to OCMS teachers with the goal of raising money for the school’s special needs class.
“When she started it, I wanted to help her, and I did a Facebook online fundraiser,” Brent said. “We were going to raise $100 to help her get some coffee, and we ended up raising a lot more [by selling cheesecakes].”
Brent suggested that Jack’s cheesecakes be added to the coffee cart. In January, slices were quickly sold off of the cart.
“We were friends with a lot of teachers and people in the county,” said Brent. “They were coming up to us at Publix [and] when we visit the school saying, ‘It was the best I’ve ever had.’”
A number of friends asked Brent how they could get their own whole cheesecakes. Brent, a veteran of the restaurant business himself, saw that Jack had the potential to fuel his own cheesecake business.
Brent helped Jack set up a Facebook page aptly named “Jack’s Cheesecakes.”
It was not long before Jack began selling to customers in other states.
As Jack’s business was taking off, he was also presented with an opportunity to help fundraise for another school fundraiser, Taste of Oconee, in February. One of his chorus directors suggested that Jack enter his cheesecake into the fundraiser’s dessert category.
“We made four different flavors, and they said we had to have enough for a thousand to 1,500 individual bites,” Brent said. “I didn’t think a lot of kids liked cheesecake, but a lot of middle school kids and elementary-age kids were dragging parents over to our table.”
To Jack’s surprise, he won and even received a plaque detailing his “Best Dessert” accomplishment. But that was not the end of Jack’s cheesecake saga.
WSB-TV Channel 2 contacted Brent a couple of days after Jack’s win. After the broadcast, they baked lots of out-of-town orders. One of the biggest orders so far is 17 cheesecakes for a Kentucky wedding.
“She (the bride) was really excited,” Brent said. “She just stumbled onto our page … we asked her if we could hand deliver them, and she invited us to be guests at the wedding.”
Given Jack’s rising culinary notoriety, Brent said he is glad people who don’t know Jack can see him as an example of a special needs kid going above and beyond what is expected of him.
“I think special needs kids need to have options, and I think one of those options should be to own your own business,” he said. “Special needs kids need to have as many options as possible, because a lot of them can really do amazing things.”