Valery Jean-Bart remembers Sunday evenings in the kitchen with his mother, Marie José Labossière. Eggs, sugar and cream cheese would be laid out on the counter as the duo tried out new cheesecake recipes each week.
Baking together became a ritual to stay positive after Marie José was diagnosed with stage 4 terminal breast cancer in June 2008.
Over the next four years, Jean-Bart and his mother baked a new cheesecake flavor every single Sunday until she died in August 2012. They created 240 original recipes together.
“She would stay up late watching the Food Channel,” Jean-Bart said. “She would always have notes on the side of her bed of things she saw during that whole week. She would pull a note, one of her scribbles, and tell me ‘Let’s do this flavor.’”
Jean-Bart, a 41-year-old UF alumnus, now keeps her memory alive through Val’s Cheesecakes at three locations in Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas. He still uses some of their original recipes.
Val’s Cheesecakes has more than 200 different flavors, including neopolitan and sweet potato, some of his mother’s favorites. Whole cheesecakes cost $50, slices cost $8 and jars of cheesecake cost $6.49.
In December, the business was featured on the Uber Eats docu-series “Unpacked,” which can be viewed on Facebook and YouTube. The episode follows Jean-Bart and his journey in creating Val’s Cheesecakes.
“I think a lot of people can relate to the way he channels baking to honor his mom’s memory,” said Vidya Rao, the lead producer of “Unpacked.” “We found his commitment to his craft incredibly inspiring.”
Although Jean-Bart graduated from UF in 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, he decided to quit his job at a civil engineering firm to open up a cheesecake shop.
He opened his first location on June 30, 2015, in Dallas, which had cost $14,000 for the construction and about $3,000 for the other products necessary to run the business.
“I think my mother is a very hard worker. She has to do everything herself; she doesn’t ask for help,” Jean-Bart said. “All the things I am saying are statements about her, but also how I see myself as well. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree at all.”
Val’s Cheesecakes has grown over the last four years with more than 15,000 followers on Instagram, 4,000 likes on Facebook and 1,000 followers on Twitter.
Jean-Bart hopes to franchise Val’s Cheesecakes in Florida within the next five years.
Despite the immense growth of his locations, Jean-Bart still remembers those Sunday evenings with his mother as the root of it all.
“It's more than cheesecake,” Jean-Bart said. “It's about the relationship between a mother and a son.”