Alan Rosen. Photos by Rachael Gorrie
Purchase’s Alan Rosen, the man behind the treasured Junior’s cheesecake empire, dishes on loving the restaurant business.
Alan Rosen opens the door with a warm smile and ushers a visitor into his white center-hall Colonial, set in a leafy Purchase cul-de-sac. Before settling into his spacious office to chat, he offers the visitor a bottle of water and a glass, pointing out the tempting cheese platter he had assembled.
Clearly for Rosen — who runs Junior’s, the iconic cheesecake-and-restaurant business founded by his grandfather, Harry, in 1950 — hospitality begins at home. But it’s also in his DNA: Rosen had an affinity for and wanted to be part of the restaurant business for as long as he can remember.
“[Junior’s] was a part of my life from the time I was 4 years old,” says the avowed cook and frequent host. “If I wanted to see my dad, I went to work because he worked seven days a week. He’d knock on my door at 5 in the morning; I’d get dressed in seconds. I remember it as vividly as anything.
“The place looked like a palace when you’re 5 years old, bussing tables and going to work with your dad, driving over the Kosciuszko Bridge,” Rosen continues. “The whole thing was so romantic to me and so charming — in such a bigger way to a 5-year-old boy than you could imagine.”
As a young teen, Rosen envisioned himself as the CEO of a publicly traded restaurant company. He worked at Junior’s growing up and graduated from Cornell University’s renowned hotel school, another formative experience. A member of its Dean’s Advisory Board, Rosen is a fervent champion of the school.
Rosen worked at restaurants and nightclubs across the country before joining Junior’s in 1993 as director of marketing. He is currently the only family member involved in the business and acknowledges the hard work of his uncle and his father, Walter, who took over from Harry Rosen.
Junior’s is known for its rich and creamy cheesecakes. The company uses the same recipe created 72 years ago by Rosen’s grandfather and baker Eigel Peterson, amassing a devout clientele of locals, tourists, celebrities, and politicians. Part of local pop culture, the Brooklyn location has seen filming by HBO’s Sex in the City, former NBA star Stephon Marbury’s announcement that he was turning pro, and the feds wiretapping of Brooklyn political boss Meade Esposito.
The cheesecakes, which come in a multitude of flavors and even layered in cake, and the restaurants, which serve a variety of made-from-scratch diner food, are New York City institutions. What began as a storefront on the corner of Flatbush and DeKalb Avenues in Brooklyn has since spawned two locations in Manhattan and one at Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut, in addition to rapidly growing mail-order and supermarket businesses with nationwide recognition, all presided over by Rosen. Junior’s sells approximately five million cheesecakes a year.
Though one might think that bearing the mantle of a famous family business carries a burden, Rosen, who rolls up his sleeves to demonstrate how to slice corned beef, doesn’t think like that. “It’s arrogant,” he says. “What gets me out of bed in the morning is being good at what we do. Taking care of our employees, taking care of our guests — not some tradition of carrying the cheesecake torch.” He says he will open more restaurants (Las Vegas is next) “to give opportunity to more good people.”
These values of caring extend past Junior’s. Last May, Rosen sponsored a gun-buyback program in Brooklyn, netting 69 firearms. “I was fed up,” he says, explaining why he acted. “How many shootings can you have before you sit here and say, ‘I gotta do something?’” He hopes for long-term impact and that other businessmen follow suit.
On the home front, the voluble and personable Rosen loves living in Westchester. “It feels like you’re in the country,” he says. He grew up in Long Island’s Great Neck and raised his three college-age children in the town/village of Harrison (his ex-wife is from Rye) before moving to its hamlet Purchase two years ago.
Rosen meditates twice daily and enjoys golfing, hiking, fishing, and walking with his beloved rescue dog, coincidentally named Brooklyn by the shelter from which she was adopted. He dines at area spots like Eastend, Bianca, Frankie & Johnnie’s, Miku, The Cottage, and Polpo Restaurant & Saloon, always dressing for dinner.
True to form, Rosen’s created a stylish bachelor pad and an inviting home for his kids, with an expansive backyard and spaces for gathering. It’s decorated with his eclectic assortment of contemporary art, including an Andrea Bowers neon wall sculpture that reads “Let Boys Be Feminine/Sensitive” and Jonathan Lopes’ Lego rendering of the original Junior’s on a table crafted from old Junior’s cardboard boxes.
Rosen revels in creating a comfortable space, much like he wants Junior’s to be for his employees and patrons. He acknowledges the grinding hours of the restaurant business but doesn’t complain. “I love it. Like love, love, love it,” he says. “It’s crazy. But if you love it, you don’t work a day in your life. And I love it.”