Saturday, 14 July 2012

The Pioneers of the Not So Humble Grilled Cheese

Grilled cheese sandwiches are a big deal in Toronto. A VERY BIG deal! Trust me, I know. You see it when people are willing to attend a Food Truck Event, pay for parking and wait in line for over 2 hours for a grilled cheese sandwich, ya know we’re all crazy for grilled cheese! Today is a special day for us here at baguettes and butterscotch. We are extremely pleased to have an opportunity to do a Q & A with the pioneers of the grilled cheese revolution in Toronto.

Kevin and Tom from Cheesewerks are going to be giving us an inside look at what's going on in the world of grilled cheese, local sourced ingredients, local producers/suppliers, and the trials and tribulations of opening their first and if I dare say it not their last Cheesewerks restaurant.

They have a great story and who better to tell it than the creators themselves. This should be cheese-tastic! Without further are the men bearing the flag for Grilled Cheese taken to another level...Kevin and Tom

1. Where did you get your interest into the world of hospitality/culinary? Who in your life influenced/inspired your passion for food?

When I was 13, my Mom (Audrey) came home from her job as head cashier at our local A&P to announce to the family – that she had told them to take their job and shove it.  She was tired of working for someone else and wanted to follow her passion of making and serving great food.
My parents turned half our basement into an industrial kitchen where my mom started an “artisan” bakery before marketing people had even invented the word.  She made everything from scratch- all of it – pies, baked goods, muffins, squares, cookies and I was her wee sous chef. In 1988, she purchased “The Courtyard Tea Room” in Perth and it ran for 18 wonderful seasons. She was a fixture in Perth, everyone knew her and the Tea Room - cottage goers, locals, and families passing through made pilgrimage to mom’s place – especially for her pies.
With Tom, he comes from a large Asian extended family which means that every get together had no less than 30 people and loads of food.  His family is enriched with diversity with uncles and cousins from Jamaica; brother in law from Antigua.  This of course means every family occasion is filled with all types of cuisine from ox-tail to papaya salad & sticky rice to roti to pho noodle soup.  Growing up with this melting pot has turned him into a foodie.
In 2005, my Mom retired and was diagnosed with lung cancer two years later.  She passed away a short 45 days after that.
It stopped both Tom and I cold.  Our daughter Taylor was 4 at the time, and with such a big shake up – we decided we wanted to build our own “family business” and that would most certainly be surrounded around food.

2. After a long hard day of work, what do you gravitate to for sustenance? Where do you like to go and eat?

Tom – At the end of the day I’m all about comfort food.  I love meatloaf, casserole…trucker food.  But what I love and crave the most is Pho from scratch. It was a 2 day affair to get the stock just right.  I remember growing up and my Mom making it almost once a month or at my request. I always looked forward to having it for dinner, lunch and dinner the next day and beyond…mmmm.
Kevin – I’m a sucker for some good chicken.  Roasted or fried – it doesn’t matter - it’s what I crave when I want comfort food. But when we go out, I tend to carve two things good Chinese or good Deli.

3. Since opening Cheesewerks, how have you seen your dream grow and progress? Has it gone all according to plan? Explain Good surprises and Bad surprises.

CHEESEWERKS has been amazing.  The reaction has been incredible, customers love our food and we’re really starting to hit our groove.  We’ve only been open for 6-months so it’s impossible to predict the future but so far so good!
We haven’t had any bad surprises really; we do know that Toronto doesn’t like the idea of paying for ketchup.  Even if it is house-made and local... LOL.  But as for good surprises, being featured in Food + Drink magazine was an amazing highlight.  It’s my go-to foodie bible and to featured only 4 months after being open – that was pretty cool.


4. I can see that you have a very popular following on social media has this been a help or a hindrance in spreading the good word about Grilled Cheese? What would you like to say to all your Cheesewerks fans?

THANK YOU of course!  We love our fans and supporters. We really tried to build a brand and community before we opened.  It totally worked.  The initial following allowed us to test recipes, receive feedback and garner buzz before we even opened our doors.  Invaluable powerful information and insights can be garnered for a new business via social media.

5. Artisan locally sourced produce was a key message that I heard from you during tastings. Can you highlight some of your fave suppliers and why you work with them?

Being 100% family-owned and operated is being local.
J  And to take that first, yes we support 100% Canadian vendors and suppliers.  As you can imagine, with a place called CHEESEWERKS know for our “Legend Dairy” Grilled Cheese – two ingredients were paramount…Cheese and fantastic Bread!  Our signature bread partner is St. John’s Bakery.  Their artisan sourdoughs are just incredible and they also produce our two signature breads from our recipes – our Cracked Peppercorn Sourdough and our Green Onion Potato bread.  With bread figured out Cheese, was next.  We support a number of producers, but all of our Cheese is 100% Canadian, artisan where possible and with no milk modified ingredients.  We love the product from Bothwell, Upper Canada Cheese Co., Glengarry Fine Cheese, Best Baa and others.  They are all incredible products and great people to source from.

6. There is grilled cheese and then there is Cheesewerks Grilled cheese. What sets you apart from the rest?

We’re flattered – thanks.  It might sound corny but we believe what sets us apart from others is that we have a story behind every recipe, every ingredient, we use real Cheese, real Butter, real food.  There is also a story behind our creations. Lastly, we have an overwhelming love for great food! It makes a difference, you can really taste it!

7. Who develops your sandwiches? Where do you get your inspiration from?

We don’t have an executive chef or a big production test kitchen someplace.  We get inspiration from our travels around the corner and around the world. We live to eat and travel.  Those great meals and great culinary travels bring our menu to life. Take our HOUSTON Grilled Cheese.  Houston was the first place we had a family-vacation with Taylor.  Tons of memories, tons of great meals.  So we took that inspiration and started to braise our own beef brisket, house-made BBQ sauce, a bit of Texas – right here in Toronto.  Same for our BEIJING Grilled Cheese.  People thought we were crazy making a cheese-centric Chinese item.  But when you taste the Asiago, with the BBQ Pork, slivered green onions, Hoisin grilled on our signature Green Onion Potato bread.  It will change you.  It’s so good.  And that Grilled Cheese was inspired because we got married in 2008 and spent our honeymoon at the Olympics in Beijing.

8. What’s next for Cheesewerks?

We just expanded our menu to include Mac + Cheese.  We had been serving it as a some-what regular special, but our fans and customers wanted it every day. So we added it.  Now you can order any of CW cities as a Grilled Cheese or Mac + Cheese.  And again – all house-made.
Bigger picture, we’re starting to look at ideas and plans for expansion.  We have a couple ideas in the works.  You’ll have to chat with us in a few months for the details. J 

9. I understand that you do events and catering. How did this come about and what projects have you been involved with?

Events and catering are two huge revenue opportunities for a new business.  Not every customer can come to you – so we built a robust infrastructure to manage a lot of special, private and corporate events.  Plus, catering is fun, it gets you out of the restaurant – thinking on your feet and meeting tons of new people.  It’s tremendous business builder for us.

10. Lastly, If you had to pick a favourite sandwich, drink and side combo – which would each of you pick and tell us why!

Tom - I’ve always loved the Beijing. And to boot, I’ll usually add bacon to it.  I also love the rustic herb tomato soup with a cold glass of sweet tea.
Kevin - I love how our flavour combinations are becoming a signature of the shop and how easily they transferred to our new Mac + Cheese.  So me, I’d switch from a Grilled Cheese and order a CHARLESTON Mac + Cheese, sparkling lemonade with a spike of gin, with a ginger molasses cookie. Comfort, accessible and delicious.

I'd like to thank the guys for taking the time to give us foodies an inside look at to the development, growth and future of Cheesewerks and in the grander scheme of things grilled cheese in Toronto. 

You can find them at:

56 Bathurst St.,
Toronto, ON,
M5V 2P7 
Twitter @cheesewerks
Facebook find Cheesewerks

No comments:

Post a Comment