Why We’ll Risk It All for the Cheesecake Factory

The over-the-top restaurant may come to symbolize a new phase of the COVID-19 pandemic

Allow me to show you a clip from the John Woo-directed 1996 action flick Broken Arrow, in which a rogue U.S. Air Force pilot (John Travolta) steals nuclear warheads with the intent of ransoming them to the government. This is the climax, in which (spoiler) Travolta is killed by a (disarmed) missile as it flies through a freight boxcar. But for meme purposes, the warhead is COVID-19, and Travolta is “me, enjoying my meal peacefully at the Cheese Cake Factory.”  

On its surface, this is just some solid gallows humor about Americans returning to normal routines despite the real and continued threat of a sometimes fatal virus. What elevates it to true art is how Travolta flashes a demonic grin as he faces the instrument of his certain demise. In that split-second, he wants to be obliterated — and he gets his wish. Could this death wish be what’s pushing us to socialize again, especially in crowded bars and restaurants? Undoubtedly.

Of our eateries, the Cheesecake Factory may loom largest in the national imagination. It’s the industrial power of the name — back to work, everyone! — and the size of the place, its menu, its margaritas. The noise of the vast dining room, and of the crowds waiting hours for a table. The Cheesecake factory, with its Vegas-infused take on classical architecture, is like nothing so much as a temple of worship. We eat, we drink, we are merry, and we give thanks (and tips).

It is dangerous to deprive Americans of this gluttony and grandeur. And their appetite matches the hunger for profit that led to a reckless reopening of the dining rooms. Both sides agree: A life without Tex-Mex egg rolls and fried macaroni and cheese is not worth living. Patriots will visit the Cheesecake Factory not necessarily because they think coronavirus is a hoax but confident that it wouldn’t dare infect them as they’re putting down a “molto meat” flatbread pizza. The two concepts simply cannot coexist. The Cheesecake Factory obeys no laws of nature or man.

Since that’s how it’s gonna be, I suppose one can only say “bone app the teeth.” The brand and its loyalists are set to march, hand-in-ungloved-hand, toward some plague-ravaged future we can barely envision right now. The comforts of refined sugar and saturated fat are enough to steel us for annihilation. And as we lift a last forkful of cake, we’ll smile like John Travolta.