Taking it cheesy with a food truck phenomenon
This is our Melt Mobile story – how we got started, where we are now, and where we are headed.
Every new business starts with an idea. After years in the hospitality industry and having my own business in the corporate sector, it was time for that “next big thing” – something I could create and grow. I considered opening a restaurant, but quickly realized the amount of risk, high overhead, and high initial investment involved.
In 2012 I began focusing on a comfort food concept that would operate out of a food truck, as I had observed the mobile restaurant trend becoming more popular in Connecticut, New York, and other metropolitan areas. My goal, on top of having the best comfort food available in a mobile restaurant, was to keep overhead low and potential for sales growth high.
I had the idea – but not the culinary expertise. Enter Diana Hall, my friend and partner, who graduated from the French Culinary Institute and had been working as a chef in various restaurants in the area. After a couple of glasses of wine at her restaurant one evening, we scoped out the potential for a concept, sketched out the initial menu for the mobile restaurant, did a very rough business projection – and Melt Mobile was born.
From the start, our plan required that our concept provide a sufficient return on investment to not only make us successful, but also to allow us to create and support a successful franchise offering.
We wanted to avoid trendy food with a limited life span, and the market was already saturated with ethnic food offerings – some of which were doing well, but many of which had failed. Our baseline was to identify a food that everyone loves; that could be enjoyed frequently; that provided us with the flexibility and variety to create an exciting menu; was affordable for the consumer; and had the potential for a high return for us and our future franchisees.
Enter – Grilled Cheese!
Grilled cheese is a universally enjoyed comfort food and provided us with a creative platform for Diana. It can be simple; with the right skills, it can also be decadent. It is usually a first “favorite food” for toddlers, yet also has a versatility that, in the right culinary hands, can delight any self-respecting “foodie” looking for a more sophisticated meal. It also allows the menu to be localized to a specific market’s tastes. We spent all night brainstorming, dreaming up possibilities, and getting really hungry!
People tried to talk us out of it – but then they’d eat some of Diana’s creations, which tended to change their minds pretty quickly. We knew we had found the right formula for our mobile concept.
Melt Mobile’s grilled cheese sandwiches start with freshly baked artisan breads from our local baker, sweet cream butter, and a variety of domestic cheeses. From there we fill them with everything from organic veggies, braised short ribs, Diana’s popular meatballs, and house-made pickled onions to slow-cooked pulled pork and Angus burger.
Diana also created homemade sauces and developed seasonal items such as crab cakes and Cajun shrimp. For dessert (who can live without dessert?) her ‘Fluffernutter’ sandwich and cheesecake melt filled out the menu.
There have certainly been challenges. As with building any new business concept from scratch, we became quickly educated on how best to achieve our plan. From selecting the right trucks and layout of the mobile kitchen, to developing the wrap for the trucks, to staffing, attracting customers, and learning how to operate, it was all a labor of love – because we knew we were building something great.
And others agreed! Only five months into our new adventure, we were selected by Bobby Flay to be on his new Food Network show, “3 Days to Open with Bobby Flay”. We were ecstatic to have been selected – and while the PR was amazing and helped put the Melt Mobile brand on the map, the process almost killed us! We pushed ourselves to levels we never thought we could reach. Television is not always pretty… but it sure introduced us to our market!
Even with the TV show and the support we gained from that exposure, there were still a few kinks we needed to work out – and we did. We’ve been tested on every level in a relatively short period of time, and have therefore become much stronger, more effective, and better prepared to handle any challenge that comes before us.
We’ve learned how to build out and stage our trucks so that they are efficient and avoid common pitfalls of mobile restaurants. (We also learned more about auto mechanics than we’d ever really wanted.) We’ve operated our mobile restaurants in the blistering heat of summer, in the freezing cold of Connecticut winters, and have come out on the other side with best practices for success in either situation. We learned the benefits and the requirements of corporate catering, and what companies are looking for. Diana and I made the transition from the traditional culinary world and the corporate world, respectively, and have developed the skills needed to succeed in the ever-evolving world of mobile food service.
There were certainly times when we thought to ourselves, What have we done? But through it all, we never once regretted our decision or doubted the potential for Melt Mobile. We knew we had a great product and a broad market for our concept, and were determined to make Melt Mobile a success. And we did it!
After our launch, business grew quickly. We added a second truck in 2014 and expanded into Westchester County soon thereafter. The catering arm of the business exploded, financially propelling us to where we needed and wanted to be. We have become the leader of the pack in mobile restaurants, receiving numerous awards and winning numerous competitions.
We started with the desire to create a mobile restaurant concept that could also be a successful franchise offering, and we are now beginning that part of our journey. We have completed the design and development of our franchise system, working with two of the leading professional firms in franchising: MSA Worldwide, the nation’s leading strategic and tactical advisory firm in franchising, to assist us on the business side developing our franchise offering and the tactical elements we needed to expand and support our franchisees; and Baker Donelson, one of the largest and most respected franchise law firms in the country, that got us through the hurdles involved in developing the necessary legal documents required to begin offering our franchises.
With our experience in taking Melt Mobile from concept to success, we are well situated to work with and support franchisees at multiple levels: from those interested in only operating two trucks in a single market, to franchisees ready to serve multiple markets. We receive a lot of interest from individuals looking to own their own business; we have also been approached by strategic groups currently operating multiple location based restaurants, as they see Melt Mobile as the perfect fit alongside their other existing brands.
We are determined to succeed in franchising just as we have succeeded in the world of mobile food service, and are ready to share everything we have learned with our franchisees. We’ll continue to learn more about the brand we have created, how our delicious sandwiches can best meet the needs of the rest of the country, and how our business model can best be used by franchisees. It’s going to be an interesting and enjoyable ride. We have put the right effort into getting the concept ready, and have invested appropriately in building our team.
To understand more about Melt Mobile, visit our website at http://melt-mobile.com. We have a great concept, a superb product, the right franchise offering, and the right team to bring on and support franchisees to gain the market presence that every great brand requires. We look forward to continuing to grow as a business and as business owners – and to rave reviews from customers and franchisees – while enjoying the ride along the way. As we say at Melt Mobile – Take it cheesy!