'Furlough Cheesecake Sisters' Say Government Shutdown Inspired Sweet New Venture

Nikki Howard and Jaqi Wright told Ellen DeGeneres how their side hustle became a booming business.

Two Maryland women furloughed by the government shutdown have found a sweet and ingenious way to get by, channeling their frustrations into delectable desserts.

Nikki Howard and her sister, Jaqi Wright, became known as the Furlough Cheesecake Sisters after they decided earlier this month to start selling homemade cheesecakes to help pay their bills during the shutdown, which began Dec. 22.

Neither Howard, who works for the Food and Drug Administration, nor Wright, employed by the Justice Department, have been to work since the partial shutdown began, so their side hustle was inspired by desperation.

Appearing on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” Friday, the women opened up about the origins of their culinary endeavor.

“It happened on New Year’s Day,” Wright said. “My sister had sent cheesecake home with me and I ate a slice ... and I forgot about the furlough. I forgot about bills. I forgot about everything ― I got lost in how good it is.”

Their mother, she added, echoed that enthusiasm.

“My mom said, ‘This is so good, you could sell it,’” Wright recalled. “And I sat up straight, I’m like, ‘Ding, ding, ding!’ We can sell it, sister!’

Howard and Wright began selling cheesecakes in original and sweet potato flavors online for $29.98 each. Their business quickly boomed ― likely thanks to media coverage ― and since then, the pair have been struggling to keep up with the demand.

DeGeneres, too, was so moved by the sisters’ story that she placed an order for a cheesecake, along with a check for $20,000, courtesy of Cheerios.

While delighted by the surprise, both Howard and Wright say navigating the shutdown has been anything but, well, a piece of cake.

“It’s been horrible. Bills are due ... my daughter, she’s going back to school soon,” Howard said. “I’ve got to get tuition, make tuition. Right now both of our husbands are unable to work, so it’s been really, really rough.”

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