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Cheesecake Business Born During Shutdown Hits Walmart

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now here's a story about what we'll call the personal economy. Remember the government shutdown last winter? It was the longest in history, lasting 34 days. Months later, the effects of the shutdown are still being felt. But there's some good news to report. Last week, the House passed a measure that will provide backpay to low-wage federal contractors who went unpaid during that time. And a cheesecake business was born.

Let's back up a second. Sisters Nikki Howard and Jaqi Wright both worked for the federal government and were both furloughed. Here's Nikki Howard.

NIKKI HOWARD: Well, life goes on, so we still had to endure Christmas without any paychecks.

MARTIN: No paychecks but lots of free time, which Nikki decided to fill with baking. On the menu, her specialty - cheesecake.

HOWARD: The idea came from my mom, who said, it's so good you could sell it. And I said, well, sissy, why don't we sell it? She said, girl, I'm on furlough. And I said, let's call it The Furlough Cheesecake.

JAQI WRIGHT: And when I said I'm on furlough, I was literally saying, I don't have a job right now, and we have time, so let's go for it.

MARTIN: So they did, and their company, The Furlough Cheesecake, was born. Howard's daughter helped her set up their Instagram account. People loved seeing the pair baking their sweet potato cheesecake from their church's kitchen, and orders started coming in. Jaqi Wright picks up the story.

WRIGHT: We were inside of Sam's Club getting ingredients so that we can bake our hundred cheesecakes.

HOWARD: Our hundred - yes.

WRIGHT: Our hundred cheesecakes.

HOWARD: Because the goal was met.

WRIGHT: Right. When I answered the phone, they said, hi, this is CNN. We wanted to know if you could come in today for an interview. This one turned around and ran down the aisle. I'm, like, OK. Can you come back so we can answer CNN, please?

MARTIN: Then the sisters got a call from Ellen DeGeneres.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ELLEN DEGENERES: You send me a cheesecake because I love cheesecake, all right?

MARTIN: And the business took off from there.

WRIGHT: So we furloughed the government back in March...

HOWARD: That's it (laughter).

WRIGHT: Officially - yeah. We turned in our things in March...

HOWARD: And...

WRIGHT: Full-time - this was our full-time effort. We gave them our furlough letter.

HOWARD: That's right. We sure did. You know, when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. So the furlough, I think, was a catalyst to make this business come alive.

MARTIN: What's next for The Furlough Cheesecake? A contract with Walmart, for starters - and...

WRIGHT: The moon and beyond.

HOWARD: You've got to put that in...

WRIGHT: Oh, yeah.

HOWARD: ...To infinity.

WRIGHT: Yes, we are looking to a bright future.

HOWARD: We have no limits - really. So we're going anywhere the cheesecake will take us.

MARTIN: And we'll take that cheesecake. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.