We Can See Why People Are Crazy About A California Grilled Cheese Chain That Raised $10 Million In Venture Capital
Aged cheddar oozes out of the artisan white bread sandwich at a molten-lava pace. I bite into crisp strips of smoked bacon and macaroni noodles, and I kind of forget where I am in time and space.
This is not your mom's grilled cheese.
Fast-casual eatery The Melt, which is headquartered in the Bay Area, dedicates itself to savory and tech-savvy grilled cheese sandwiches starting at $5 a pop. And cheese aficionados across California are lining up at lunchtime for toasted creations as tame as The Classic (cheddar on artisan white) or as decadent as The Shroom (Swiss, portabello mushrooms, and grilled onions on sourdough).
The Melt opened with not-so-humble beginnings. The brainchild of Flip Video founder Jonathan Kaplan, Sequoia Capital - the firm that backed Apple, Google, Instagram, and Oracle - put up $10 million to get the chain off the ground in 2011. Today, a management team led by Kaplan and a board of directors including three prominent Silicon Valley venture capitalists, a former head of retail operations at Apple, and a James Beard award-winning chef, oversee 15 locations throughout California, including several in Silicon Valley.
We stopped by The Melt's New Montgomery location in San Francisco to find out if it's worth dining out on grilled cheese that costs more than a loaf of white bread and packet of Velveeta combined.
When we arrived at 12:30 p.m. on a work day, young professionals packed the place, although the line moved quickly.
The menu board contained eight grilled cheeses to choose from: four basics ($4.95) and four specialty sandwiches ($6.95). Diners could customize their sandwich with fresh tomato, jalapeno, or grilled onion at no cost; meat and other veggies run $1 - $2 per add-on.
I ordered the Mac Daddy, a bacon-macaroni-gluttony combo. It cost $6.95 and came with a pickle (or chips).
It's evident that Kaplan's tech background influenced much of the ordering process. My initials popped up on an electronic order status board by the pick-up area, and when my sandwich was ready my initials jumped to the top with the words "Order up!'
While waiting for my coworker's sandwich to hit the counter, we noticed some patrons skip the line entirely. Part of The Melt's tech-shtick is its expedited online ordering process. When you place your order on the website or mobile app, you receive an email with a QR code that is unique to your purchase. You can go to any Melt location, walk straight to the pick-up area, and tap the QR code to a scanner to send your order to the kitchen.
The Melt app also gives you the option to send your order to the kitchen without being inside the store, so it's ready for pick-up whenever you are.
Vice President of Operations Greg Hernandez told Gizmodo in an interview that the perfect grilled cheese combines a few criteria. The cheese needs to be ooey-gooey, the bread has to be crispy "but not hard like a crouton," and the sandwich as a whole should be moist without turning soggy.
The contraption pictured below is the secret ingredient to cultivating this grilled cheese of technology lore. The sandwich cooks in the glorified toaster for approximately 50 seconds. While The Melt declined to take us behind the counter and teach us its ways, I have faith in a company that recruited NASA consultants to design its delivery transport boxes.
I soon discovered my trust was well placed. The Mac Daddy's bread tasted buttered and heavily herb-spiced, but the sandwich was not so greasy that it leaked all over my hand. The saltiness of the bacon complemented the rich mac and cheese, of which there was just enough.
The indulgent lunch filled me for most of the afternoon. I regret nothing.
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