Graeme Smith got a perfect score on the restaurant mockup project when he was studying at Hamilton’s Liaison College. Now he and business partner Scott Austin have their fingers crossed that the success will translate into real life.
Smith’s mockup was a restaurant specializing in the ultimate comfort food — grilled cheese sandwiches. Not your processed slices on bag-o-bread, but the real thing, done to order.
“I’ve had the idea for 16 years now,” Smith says. There’s been one diversion in that time. Instead of a restaurant, the grilled cheese is on four wheels. Smith and Austin are the owners and operators of Gorilla Cheese, which will begin serving up high-end sandwiches from the back of a truck within a few weeks.
Gorilla Cheese will be the second gourmet food truck in Hamilton, part of a craze that is sweeping North America. The idea is to offer fresh, local and custom-made food at various spots around a city. It relies heavily on social media such as Twitter and Facebook to let potential customers know when and where the truck will be parked.
Gorilla Cheese is actually a child of the economic downturn. Smith was laid off from U.S. Steel and Austin later from The Hamilton Spectator. Smith enrolled at Liaison College to become a professional chef, and Austin became an enthusiastic home cook.
Now they’ve teamed up to take their skills to the streets.
“I always thought this was a great idea,” says Austin. “Who doesn’t like grilled cheese? A couple of months ago we said if we’re going to do grilled cheese, we’ll do it now and from a truck.”
They’re not talking about pre-wrapped sandwiches in a van. Gorilla Cheese is a big black converted Purolator delivery truck emblazoned with a billboard-like logo. The vehicle is currently in Montreal being custom fitted with a commercial kitchen that includes two stovetop elements, two refrigerators, multiple sinks, an industrial hood fan, a sprawling 48-inch griddle and an ergonomic floor.
Austin and Smith expect to take delivery of the truck in three or four weeks, and to be on the road in time for Canada Day. “We’re looking at two or three stops a day for two to four hours at a time,” Smith says, noting that they will abide by parking and food service bylaws at all times (see sidebar). “We’re looking to blanket the city, but we’ll focus on places like Innovation Park, Bayfront Park and downtown.”
However, both men expect the core of their business will be from private and corporate functions that hire them, as well as public special events and festivals, but they will be moving around the city as well. There are about 500 people already using Gorilla Cheese’s Twitter and Facebook connections, and people who have the EatStreet phone app will soon be able to track them.
They’re in the process of developing the menu for Gorilla Cheese, so are reluctant to get into too much detail about specific features. But there will be a build-your-own option in which customers pick from several fresh breads, a selection of cheeses, and toppings such as back bacon and caramelized onions, and the sandwich is prepared fresh to order “We will offer five or six specialty sandwiches as well,” Smith says. “There will also be basic grilled cheese but made with real cheddar, and we want a uniquely Canadian flavour.”
Austin says that sandwiches are not enough. “We’ll have tomato soup, possibly a second soup of the day and baked beans, all made from scratch.”
They expect prices will be $5 to $6 for a sandwich and $10 to $12 for a combo of sandwich, soup and side.
“There’s an untapped market and we think people will like this alternative,” Smith says. “Our food culture will be high-end but affordable.
“We want to put Hamilton on the gourmet truck map, and want work with restaurants with things like occasional specials that feature food from a certain supplier or establishment.”
Website: gorillacheese.com (still under construction but active in about two weeks)