Earlier this month, Think Tasty readers had the opportunity to choose the best restaurant in the Mid-Atlantic Region. With ten unique and wonderful restaurants on our list, picking the best was not easy. The votes arrived steadily, with readers adding their votes and leaving comments raving about their restaurants until the end. When voting was done, the restaurant that earned the most votes was Grilled Cheese & Co.
I was able to speak with Vic Corbi, one of the four co-owners of the restaurant.
TT: When did Grilled Cheese & Co open?
VC: We opened on April 5th of this year. We’d been planning the business for a while. We actually started the company in 2005. The idea came to me in a dream; I had an Airstream and was selling grilled cheese on a corner. My friend Matt (co-owner Matt Lancelotta) owned a bar in Federal Hill. Six months later I bought into the bar. It was going to cost $800,000 to renovate, so we sold it to another restaurant owner. At that point the two of us decided to keep working in our other fields (realty and a family business). In 2009 we decided we had to do something and started doing wine and beer fests. We used easy-up tents and sold our grilled cheese from there; it was extremely successful. We kept being asked where our restaurant was. At the end of the festival season, we started looking, found this building in December, signed the lease in January, and were open in April.
TT: Did you work in the restaurant industry prior to that?
VC: There are four partners: My family owns a large food manufacturing company, Joe Corbi’s. I don’t have restaurant experience but have food and marketing experience. Matt is a realtor, which will help with franchising. James, Matt’s brother, is the executive chef and has worked at a lot of great restaurants. Scott’s background is in marketing and has worked with three start-up companies.
TT: Do you have planned locations for other Grilled Cheeses?
VC: We will be franchising by April 2011, but we can’t solicit or talk to anybody until we have all of the paperwork in place. We are in the process of opening three (maybe four) in Baltimore. We are doing joint ventures with friends. We manage, and they provide capital.
TT: How often do you add or remove items from your menu?
VC: We add new items every two weeks. There always is something new and fresh.
TT: Do you expand your menu when you add new items?
VC: No, more sandwiches just add more equipment. Three of our sandwiches account for 60% of sales. Another two sandwiches add another 20%.
TT: Can you tell me which three sandwiches are the most popular?
VC: The Crabby Melt blows the others away. Then it is the Original and the BCT. (We started the menu with those three at festivals.)
TT: What do you like about being a restaurant owner in Maryland? What do you dislike?
VC: We live here. Maryland is a great state. We don’t have a lot of the economic woes other parts of the country have. There are no disadvantages to living here. We have the best of everything: mountains and beach, each is two hours away.
TT: You have a loyal base of patrons, especially for a restaurant as young as yours. What is it about your restaurant that you believe makes that so?
VC: We engage with our guests and seek their input. We go out of our way to do the right things in how we operate the business. We are big on social networking. Serving comfort food really helps with the whole process. Who doesn’t love grilled cheese? We have a lot of very hardcore fans.