Food trucks and restaurants continue to capitalize on single-subject concepts, many serving grown-up grilled cheese sandwiches as the "melt" trend continues to grow coast to coast. Just this year, a number of new grilled cheese concepts opened across the country in the form of small and emerging chains with menus full of fresh produce, artisan cheeses, organic meats and whole-grain, even gluten-free, bread. A handful pair their 'wiches with homemade soups and salads.
FE&S: Do you see grilled cheese concepts surviving in today's ultra competitive environment or are they a passing trend?
DL: I see this trend growing in the years to come, but as a niche concept from a very small base of stores. I do not see it having the growth projections like the "better burger" trend from five years ago, or the personal fast-casual pizza trend happening right now.
FE&S: How can these concepts survive over the long run?
DL: Success of these concepts depends on how well the owner/operators can refine the concept in terms of menu, price and service; executing at the store level to meet or exceed customer expectations and value perceptions, and selecting the right site in the right trade areas.
FE&S: What's the most important equipment for a grilled cheese concept?
DL: The most important piece of "equipment" is the crew themselves and their ability to provide a great guest experience. Second to that would be the tools, such as social media, that provide mobile and social interaction with the customer base. In terms of actual kitchen equipment, what needs to be considered is cooking time cycles versus throughput for simple operations like these that depend on higher sales volumes.
Operators and suppliers will need to focus on hard-to-duplicate menu items to entice consumers to purchase sandwiches away from home. Grilled cheese has to be perfectly executed and feature ingredients consumers perceive as fun.
The Cincinnati-based fast-casual restaurant chain first made headlines in May 2013 on the ABC TV show "Shark Tank," where entrepreneurs compete for investor funding. Now, the grilled cheese and tomato soup concept by Corey Ward and Trew Quackenbush currently has 14 stores in operation and 150 stores under contract in 20 states with plans to open 13 new stores throughout the Midwest and South by spring 2015. The first brick and mortar store on Court Street celebrated a grand re-opening this fall.
Originally started as a food tent in Cincinnati, Tom+Chee is known for its fresh ingredients and quirky takes on comfort food classics, offering 20-plus grilled cheese sandwiches, from a vegetarian Hippy+Chee to the ever-popular Grilled Cheese Donut. The menu, made entirely from scratch without the use of fryers, freezers or microwaves also offers salads, three versions of tomato soup and a variety of vegan and gluten-free options.