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FAMU architecture student found calling creating decadent cheesecakes | The Light Series

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Once upon a time Khari Hairston-El, a STEM prince, was steeped in mile-high books, studying formulas to be an architect at Florida A&M University. Then one day, a cheesecake genius showed him a recipe that brought smiles to many.  Now, the prince of science is the King of Cheesecakes in a modest Kingdom right outside the L.A. empire.

Where are you located?

Bakersfield, California.

What is our business?

I create hand-crafted Cheesecakes. Each one is made with Love that you can taste.

How long have you been in business?

I’ve been in business on and off since 2007. 

What made you start it?

While attending Florida A&M University, I learned to how to make cheesecakes, back in 1992, from my chef roommate, Dawood Headley-El. He is the reason that I make cheesecakes and I have the utmost gratitude and respect for this brother. 

I’ve always had an issue eating things white and/or creamy that were made by my mother, but my roommate had a side business, Cheesecake Delight. He asked me if I’ve ever had cheesecake. And of course I said, “No!!!!” So he convinced me to try some. And this amazing chef made a chocolate chip cheesecake in a Bundt cake pan! It’s 20-plus years later, am I’m still amazed by that. 

Reluctantly I tried it . . . and it was the best thing ever. And I was like, “Yo!!!!!!! You have to show me how to make that.” And he was like, “Nope!” However, I convinced him to let me help him with his business. When we lived with another fellow FAMU student, Zaccai Free, we had parties and we made good food and good desserts!

Eventually, Dawood left FAMU and I asked if I could use his recipe to sell cheesecakes. And he allowed me to. In 1994, I sold cheesecake slices at the African Marketplace—usually cherry and mandarin orange. It was amazing! 

Fast forward to 2006 or 2007, I was working at Home Expo in Southern California and I wanted to make money on my own. So that is when the Cheesecake Pimp was created! I sold $3 cheesecake slices on the bus, going to and from work. And what I didn’t sell on the bus, I sold at work. This was my first taste of being an entrepreneur, and I was hooked.

During this time, I created a business card: Put Yo Foot in It Bakery, was my first business name. In 2008, I changed the name to JaJa Bakery. JaJa is Igbo for God’s Gift and I’m thankful for that gift. So, I share that gift with the amazing cheesecakes that I create.

In 2019, I’m back and ready to move JaJa Bakery to the next level and grow my skill set.

What makes your business special?

What makes JaJa Bakery special, is love. I love what I do. And you can taste that love in every bite!

How does your business solve a problem?

There is a need in my community for more loving moments of joy in people’s everyday life. JaJa Bakery does that with every bite. I am thankful for everyone who feels that joy. 

What did you find out about who you are as you built your company?

I created my business because I love to create in the kitchen. But mainly, to have a business of my own. My father, Rev. Isaiah Hairston was an entrepreneur and I have that same spirit. I love doing for myself! And clocking in daily, to make someone else rich, just doesn’t work for me. This entrepreneurial journey has shown me so much. On this journey I’ve had a lot of trauma in my life! My will to survive and keep going has utterly amazed me.

To do something that I love doing and to build financial stability for my family. My father, Rev. Isaiah Hairston was an entrepreneur! And I have that same spirit. I love doing for myself!!!! And clocking in daily, to make someone else rich, just doesn’t work for me! This entrepreneurial journey has shown me so much!!!! On this journey I’ve had a lot of trauma in my life! My will to survive and keep going has utterly amazed me. 

What keeps you going?

My will to succeed and each time I create a dessert that people love and enjoy gives me life! 

What do you do when you get discouraged?

Honestly… when I get discouraged, I pout like a child, LOL! And once I shake that off, I think of how I can’t disappoint my children.

How do you define success?

Success . . . success for me is being a man of my word and completing my goals each day. My family is the most important thing in my life! Seeing my children happy and healthy let’s me know this struggle is the right thing for me to do. To have a happy and healthy family requires financial stability. So being successful is what I must do!

Who or what inspires you?

My inspiration comes from a few places. First and foremost, my four beautiful children inspire me on a daily basis. I can’t even explain it. When my children say, “Daddy, I love you,” that’s the best inspiration a father can ask for.

Another major part of my inspiration comes from my college friends and associates: Zaccai (Free), Kaia (Shivers), LA Will (Maples), (William Ashanti) Hobbs, Dwayne “Deekay” Kendrick and Will Packer to name a few. Also, my want and need to help my community also be great, keeps me going. Seeing successful African people truly gives me life!

What else can I say… My goal is to continue to make dangerous desserts. Because I love what I do, from Oshun to infinity!!!!! 

How to contact Khari?

Instagram: Jaja Bakery — Facebook: Jaja Bakery 


Ark Republic is ending the year with a series of mixed-media stories of hope, empowerment, leadership, courage, brilliance family and affirmation. We want to enter into the New Year with a community collaboration called, “The Light Series.”

The Light Series is a month-long exploration of all things light and love. So, we invite you to walk with us. Even, we ask that you participate in highlighting those in your community who need some shine, or even yourself, your business or your superpower.

Our first week, December 1 to December 7, we will feature stories of innovators in our communities. Next, from December 8 to December 15, we share stories of inspiration from our entrepreneurs. Afterwards, from December 16 to December 25, we explore spiritual, religious and family traditions, as well as, winter rituals. Finally, from December 26 to January 1, we will end the series with stories of affirmation and forward movement in this next cycle, 2020.

If you would like to submit a personal essay, article, video, poem/spoken word or other media presentation of your work, just provide basic information and answer at least five of the questions. Once finished, send your answers and a high resolution picture(s) to the following:  [email protected].

Ark Republic is an independent media company that provides a platform for free-thinking folk to tell stories as complex and colorful as possible. We need your help to keep the wheels churning and the stories flowing. Please become and member or donate to an organization dedicated to giving you stories that keep you informed.

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