State of the Union & A Call to Arms for the Cheese Nation!

Hello, Faithful Cheese Lovers!!

It’s been a long time since I addressed the Grilled Cheese Nation and, duly noted, it’s long overdue. While we may have seemed quiet over the winter, there’s been a flurry of activity behind the scenes. Every day, I am asked about the status of our storefront, and every day I’ve given the same response, one which I’ve always believed at the time: “Soon!” It’s not the only question, but it is the most common one, and I aim to answer that and more.

Why a Storefront?

After 4 years in the streets, we want a home; a place that can be our headquarters and overall base of operations. We want a place that everybody knows about and knows where to find us anytime they want. Where we can prep food for the truck and send it out better prepared to reduce sellouts at your favourite events. Somewhere that we can accept deliveries any time, instead of driving all over the city to get our stock and supplies. A place where we can warmly serve through the harsh winter months. A place that contributes to a growing community of unique, passionate, idependently-owned businesses, and a place that will provide rewarding jobs for more people. We want a place we think you’ll really like. A place with an address.

What’s taking so long??

It’s hard to keep a long story short, but I’ll do my best.

Around this time last year, I made the exciting announcement that Gorilla Cheese would be opening a storefront at King St East at Hilda Avenue. Suffice to say, there were numerous issues that made the venture too problematic to justify the investment. We used the location as a base through the summer food truck season and kept an eye out for a more suitable location.
I came across the perfect location last October at 131 Ottawa St. North, the home of former Mexican takeout, Poco Loco. With the building established for 9 years as a 14-seat restaurant, it was presented as a turnkey operation, where with some minor renovations, a new sign and some new equipment would have us up and running in no time. We started work, including the installation of new flooring, new stairs, new paint, new lights and a state-of-the-art kitchen, complete with spiffy stainless-steel walls and all-new kitchen equipment. The budget and timing were on target for an opening in January, but that’s when all progress came to a halt.

At the time of signing the lease, I was told that there was a minor glitch: the building was classified in the City’s Building Department as a “Hair Salon”, which it had been before Poco Loco was founded. Somehow, the restaurant was still able to get license renewals and pass its various yearly inspections, even with a change of ownership three years ago. I was presented correspondence between the City and the former owner that suggested that an inspection of the hood-fan would be all that was needed to designate the building properly. However, when I went to start our license application process, the City of Hamilton Building Department told us that the drawings we were supplied were insufficient, and we would need to go through the steps for a complete Change of Use. This meant costly new architectural drawings, a Building Permit, and whatever upgrades would be necessary to bring the building to current city code. Despite countless meetings, and even with the invaluable help of Ottawa Street BIA director Patty Hayes and Councillor Sam Merulla, the ultimate response was that we would have to bring the building to code as if it were a brand new restaurant. In the end, pretty much everything in the restaurant was obsolete. On top of everything we had already done, we would now need a new hood vent, an air exchange system, new duct-work, a grease interceptor, emergency lighting, updated fire suppression… the list goes on, and it takes the costly labour of architects, engineers, electricians, sheet metal workers and carpenters to install them.

The worst part is that with all the time it had taken to get that far, the first of the month didn’t stop coming around, meaning the building’s monthly bills needed payments, including the lease, utilities and insurance, all for a restaurant that wasn’t even open for business. We were forced to use our start-up budget to pay our monthly bills, and with a harsh winter when no revenues could even be generated by our food truck. When I did try to slug it out in the truck by doing one-man services to save money on payroll, each service would barely pay for the repairs that the harsh winter created. And we also found out the hard way that it’s not legal to operate the truck alongside our store, via an anonymous complaint to Bylaw. I narrowly avoided having the truck towed from where we had it parked, but still had to pay for it, and had to quickly find a new spot to store the truck. On the bright side, however, I did learn how to replace the truck’s entire plumbing system. Three times.

So when will it be open?

We have started a crowdfunding campaign to get us open for the middle of May, contingent on the campaign’s success. Hence, we need your help. We hope you’ll contribute, and in exchange, we’ll hook you up with some sweet perks, including everything from food & merchandise to private parties & GRILLED CHEESE FOR LIFE. See “Crowdfunding?” below for more details.

What happened with the money from Dragons’ Den?

Many of you know that we appeared on CBC’s Dragon’s Den in October of last year, the same month we announced our new location. We were very fortunate to have struck a deal with new Dragon Vikram Vij, who owns some very successful Indian restaurants (and even a food truck!) in British Columbia. However, as is often the case with handshake deals on Dragons’ Den, the funding did not materialize. While Vikram, himself, is a great supporter, he still has to answer to his own financial backers and advisors, and they were not as keen to invest. It was saddening that we couldn’t attain the financial backing, which would have amply facilitated our store’s opening and more, but the appearance was still one of the most rewarding (and terrifying) experiences of my life. I’m very honoured and thankful for Vikram’s support and hope he’ll at least give me a bit of a discount if I’m ever able to make it out to one of his amazing restaurants.

But the Dragons told you NOT to open a restaurant!

This is one I have had to explain a lot. At the end of the pitch, Vikram made the deal contingent on not opening a restaurant. This was lost in the mix. While viewers see a five or ten minute pitch on Dragons’ Den, the actual pitch can often last as long as an hour, and what you are watching is the edited product. During my pitch, I had a discussion with Jim Treliving, in which he felt that I had done a great job with the food truck, but to open a full service restaurant was an entirely different story, and one that he advised against. He advised opening a takeout with limited seating was a natural extension of the business, and one that suited our brand perfectly. However, he highlighted the difficulties of opening and running a full-service restaurant, complete with 30+ tables, wait staff, liquor licenses and the such, and advised against it, something that was agreed upon by all the Dragons. This discussion was not included in the aired version of the pitch. When advise comes from a man who owns more than 200 successful restaurants, I heed his advice seriously. Opening the takeout restaurant that the Dragons advised is exactly what I am doing.


Unfortunately, our start-up funds dried up with the costs and time required to facilitate our Change of Use. As an unexpected and costly expense, we’re forced to turn to you to help get the storefront open. But we’re not asking for a handout! We want to give back a value that is equal to, or even more than your contribution. We’ve designed the perk system so that the more you give, the more you get back. We’ve lowered our catering costs for the crowdfunding campaign, so you can have a private service for less than our typical minimum! There’s some really interesting and lucrative perks, so have a look and choose the one that best suits you!
For some of the larger contributions, I would suggest crowdfunding our crowdfunding campaign!! For example, you can have the Gorilla Cheese Truck come and serve at your workplace by having your coworkers pitch in for the contribution. Or, if you’re the Big Cheese at a company, you can give your workers a nice treat, and pay less than you typically would to book a private service. And if you don’t have a crowd to feed, you can still feed yourself and get some cool swag for less than you’d normally pay!

We’re super excited about our new takeout and the upcoming food truck season. We have some cool bookings for the truck, and it all kicks off on May 1st at Ottawa Street’s famed food truck festival Sew Hungry! We’re making the trip out to Port Colborne and Whitby this summer, and will also be at the CNE for the first time! We’ll also be marking a return to the Festival of Friends for their 40th anniversary, and hitting our yearly faves like the Sound of Music Festival and Supercrawl. We also have weekly gigs lined up like Holy Food Trucks every Tuesday night in Ancaster, and we’re pleased to announce a regular Wednesday night service at Food Truck Alley called Gorilla Cheese & Friends, including some of of our favourite trucks from Toronto, Kitchener, and of course, Hamilton!
Thanks so much for your support, and we’ll be cheesing you soon!!

Cheesy Christmas Times in Cambridge!

Here’s the schedule of Gorilla Cheese. Assume the city is Hamilton, unless otherwise stated. Service times are sometimes added as the date nears. Actual locations at time of service are posted on Twitter and Facebook. Sometimes we’re spontaneous with our schedule, so check back often!!

Christmas in Cambridge!!

MarketAndCinCPostcard2014FINAL_Page_1 MarketAndCinCPostcard2014FINAL_Page_2Thursday, December 11 – Unsilent Night, Cambridge Farmers Market, Cambridge City Hall, 4-9pm

Friday, December 12 – Christmas in Cambridge Farmers Market, Cambridge City Hall, 4-9pm

Saturday, December 13 – Christmas in Cambridge Farmers Market, Cambridge City Hall, 8am-2pm



We Grill The Cheese, You Eat The Cheese.

Here’s the schedule of Gorilla Cheese. Assume the city is Hamilton, unless otherwise stated. Service times are sometimes added as the date nears. Actual locations at time of service are posted on Twitter and Facebook. Sometimes we’re spontaneous with our schedule, so check back often!!

Friday, December 5 – Y108 Presents Christmas in Gore Park! 11am-8:30pm

Saturday, December 6 – Cambridge Farmers Market Vendor Appreciation Day, 40 Dickson St, CAMBRIDGE, Open to Public from 10am-1pm

Thursday, December 11 – Christmas at the Cambridge Farmers Market, 40 Dickson St, CAMBRIDGE, 4-9pm

Friday, December 12 – Christmas at the Cambridge Farmers Market, 40 Dickson St, CAMBRIDGE, 4-9pm

Saturday, December 13 – Christmas at the Cambridge Farmers Market, 40 Dickson St, CAMBRIDGE, 8-2pm

We Aim To Cheese, And We Succeed.

Here’s the schedule of Gorilla Cheese. Assume the city is Hamilton, unless otherwise stated. Service times are sometimes added as the date nears. Actual locations at time of service are posted on Twitter and Facebook. Sometimes we’re spontaneous with our schedule, so check back often!!

Tuesday, November 18 – Halton Women’s Place Pier Lighting Ceremony, Brant St. Pier, BURLINGTON, 5-7pm

Shine Pier Lighting-page-001

*This is a special event commemorating the purple lighting of the pier in observance of Woman Abuse Prevention Month, as presented by Halton Woman’s Place and the CIty of Burlington.Great food, DJ’s and keynote speakers, and of course, lighting the Brant St. Pier PURPLE!!

Friday, November 21 – Ottawa Street Christmas!! See us out front of our new digs at 131 Ottawa St. North!! Lots of great food trucks and the amazing shops and restos will line Ottawa St for a special night celebrating that wonderful time of year!! 3-7pm!!


Saturday, November 22 – Mississauga Tree Lighting Ceremony, Celebration Square, MISSISSAUGA, 6-9pm

Saturday, November 22 – Marsden/Norwood Wedding (Private Function) 10:30pm-12am


99 Problems but Cheese ain’t one.

Here’s the schedule of Gorilla Cheese. Assume the city is Hamilton, unless otherwise stated. Service times are sometimes added as the date nears. Actual locations at time of service are posted on Twitter and Facebook. Sometimes we’re spontaneous with our schedule, so check back often!!

Wednesday Nov 12th 

Trinity United Church 11-2pm 10 Trinity Church Rd

Readers Choice Special Service The top 3 Food Truck Winners;  Gorilla Cheese, Jonny Blonde and Dirty South,

5-8pm Corner of Queen St & Main St

Come and celebrate Hamilton’s highest-rated food trucks as chosen by YOU!!

Thursday Nov 13th 

Red & White Day 11-5pm York University Keel Campus TORONTO

Friday Nov 14th 

Hamilton Go Station 11-2pm Hunter & James

Saturday Nov 15th

Nickel Brook Brewery 11-4:30p 854 Drury Ln BURLINGTON


Curbside CHEESERS!!

Here’s the schedule of Gorilla Cheese. Assume the city is Hamilton, unless otherwise stated. Service times are sometimes added as the date nears. Actual locations at time of service are posted on Twitter and Facebook. Sometimes we’re spontaneous with our schedule, so check back often!!


This week, we’re going back to our roots with some Hamilton curbside services in celebration of our Platinum Awards in the Hamilton Spectator Readers Choice Awards for Best Sandwich and Best Food Truck in Hamilton!

Tuesday, November 4 – King St E, just west of Lake Ave, STONEY CREEK, 5-7:30pm

Wednesday, November 5 – Upper Gage Garage, 451 Upper Gage Ave, 5-8pm

Thursday, November 6 – Hunter St at James, outside GO Station, 5-7:30pm

Friday, November 7 – FCB, Toronto, 219 Dufferin St, TORONTO, 11-2pm

COMING NEXT WEEK: A Readers Choice Special Service!! Wednesday November 12, the top 3 Food Truck Winners, including Gorilla Cheese, Jonny Blonde and Dirty South, are serving the BEST at Queen St at Main St from 5-8pm!! Come and celebrate Hamilton’s highest-rated food trucks as chosen by YOU!!

Finally, It Can Be Told… A Much Anticipated Word on Dragons, Storefronts and Other Wonderful Things.

On April 9th, 2014, three cheesy and terrified gorillas entered CBC Studios in Toronto to go head-to-head with Canada’s most famous investors on famed television show Dragons’ Den. We’ve been bound by strict contract to keep the outcome secret since, and it’s been difficult. Every single day since our pitch, we’ve been asked about it and had to put on our best poker faces. Needless to say, this blog post has been a long time coming, and we’re more than elated to reveal all the things that is making October 2014 a landmark month in the history of Gorilla Cheese. Read on!

(Side note: At the time of this writing, we still have not seen the episode, so what you’re reading is solely based on our experience. I can only hope that the Dragons’ Den producers and editors didn’t make us look completely like the monkeys we are.)


To begin, the decision to audition to pitch on Dragons’ Den back in March was wholly a spontaneous thing. As a fan of the show, I had always fantasized about being on it, but never thought in my wildest dreams that it could become a reality. When I read that Innovation Factory was holding a seminar on how to pitch for some upcoming auditions later that week, that’s how I found out about it. My hopes weren’t necessarily high, but I thought I’d check it out. When I went to the audition, I had nothing prepared, and really expected nothing in return. I thought I’d go in and just tell them what we’re about and see what they said. While waiting for my turn to audition, one of my fellow hopeful contestants suggested that I really should have our product to show the producers. I took the suggestion and raced out to get Gord, and we came back and parked in front of CBC Hamilton on James St, just in time for my audition time. Thankfully, the producers were hungry, so my plying them with grilled cheese seemed to do the trick! A week later, I got a call that we had been accepted.

During that phone call, the producers informed us that they wanted to have Gord (our truck, and also the name of the gorilla in our logo) on the set, however, we could not bring in any propane tanks or equipment due to safety concerns. We wanted to make sandwiches for the Dragons, so we had to figure out another way. So, the day before the big pitch, we took Gord to Avondale Restaurant Equipment to have our propane grill removed (it weighs like 10 million pounds) and replaced with an electric substitute. I got a call that afternoon, telling me that the electric grill required far more amps than Gord’s electrical box could supply, and that to make it work, we’d have to run all new wiring and install a new box. Jeepers, we just had to make 5 sandwiches! We nixed the idea and I got some Hamilton Beach electric skillets to cook the sandwiches. However, the grill was removed and there was no time to re-install it before the show, so there was a gaping hole where it usually sat. Gotta say, the truck didn’t look particularly pretty on the inside, and I prayed that none of the Dragons would want to board the truck. Of course, Vikram Vij did. Ugh.

It took a while to get Gord up the elevator and into the studio, as the battery had to be disconnected and the gasoline drained, and it took ten people to push the truck into place. But that was only the beginning of the madness. I hadn’t had the chance to nail down my pitch, as we were getting quite busy with the upcoming food truck season and the acquisition of a future storefront just days before, but more on that in a few paragraphs. I asked them when the shoot was scheduled, begging for some time to review my notes so I could come up with a somewhat cohesive pitch. I was assured I would have at least a few hours, as we were scheduled for later that afternoon. Of course, that’s just not how television works.

After getting Gord into place, I was informed that the time had been moved ahead to, well, pretty much NOW. Pete and Sacha boarded the truck to get the sandwiches ready, amidst dozens of people on the truck, adjusting the lighting and setting up microphones and the such, while I was whisked away for makeup and to get into place. While I was off, another producer came to tell me that the electric skillets were setting off all the circuit breakers and couldn’t be used. “Don’t worry,” they said, “we have Pete and Sacha in our kitchen making them, come with me.” I didn’t even get my makeup. I went into the kitchen to find my crew gone, having already been taken to their places on the truck. There stood some dude I’ve never met, with a frying pan on low and a slice of cheese between two slices of bread. I don’t even think there was butter on the bread. I was mortified. I wanted to make them Lumberjacks and Sarduccis, not a slice of cheese between two slices of unbuttered bread! “Don’t worry,” they said, “it will make for great television!” TELEVISION? This is my LIFE, man! I’m here to get a deal!! “Don’t worry,” they said.

They took me to the bottom of those infamous stairs that led to the set. I’ve seen those stairs travelled hundreds of times before on the show, and here I was, about to mount them. I was shaking with fear. The rest, I don’t even remember. Only now, at the time that you’re reading this after the show has aired, do I have any idea what I said… other than Arlene Dickinson saying “I gotta be honest, these sandwiches aren’t that great.” And I know I came out like a cornered badger, defending that those were NOT our sandwiches!! I also remember being turned down by Jim Treliving and that I thought it was all going to slide downhill from there. Oh, and something about a spatula being dropped during the pitch.

From that point, I only remember driving Gord home, and screaming “VIKRAAAAM!!!” repeatedly at the top of my lungs while honking the horn in dead traffic on the Gardiner Expressway.

The Great News: We got a deal on Dragons’ Den! We asked for $150,000 for some forgotten percentage of the company, and famous restaurateur Dragon Vikram Vij proposed the same amount as a loan with no equity in the company. It was better than we could have ever hoped. Vikram is an incredible man who started his life in Canada with nothing more than $50 in his pocket and a burning passion to make excellent food. He certainly has done so, and his Indian restaurants in British Columbia are world- famous. He also has a food truck and a line of his own high-quality frozen foods. He is the ideal partner for a company like Gorilla Cheese. And we have also lined up a few things with rock & roll investor Mike Wekerle that has become a much-valued relationship. He’s kind of a hero to me, so that’s also very awesome.

The Not-As-Great-News: We are still in due-diligence phase with our funding. It’s going quite late, and it’s a fact that more than 80% of the deals on Dragons’ Den do not make it past due-diligence. There is a great possibility that we may not get the funding. I have spoken to Vikram since, and he has readied me to expect that it may not come through, as he has his own people to answer to, and they may not necessarily like our past numbers. It doesn’t matter how awesome a company is, or how good their grilled cheese is, or how many followers they have on Facebook and Twitter. I’ve learned the hard way that investors and accountants look at black-and-white numbers, and we’ve admittedly had hardships in the past. However, it’s not dead by any means, and we continue to work on it. On the other hand, Vikram has said that he will wholly support the business though his social media and will come down to our storefront with a camera crew to support the company when we open. The exposure of being on the show, and especially to have Vikram’s support is priceless, and we are absolutely over-the-moon with the results. What an honour it is to even speak to this man, never mind getting a hug and my name remembered whenever I’ve seen him since. Thank you, Vikram Vij, thank you!


Now this is exciting. Yes, we are moving ahead with the storefront, and it will be open before December. However, things have changed. This time, we start with the Not-As-Great News, but rest assured, it gets better:

The Not-As-Great-News: We will not be opening the location at King St East as originally intended. When we first looked at the location, it looked like a relatively turn-key operation. Put some equipment in place, doll it up with some paint and signage, and voila! However, after having the engineers come in to prepare it for inspection and equipping, it became apparent that this was going to cost way more money than expected. We were getting pretty worried, as the intended date to open had long passed and kept getting pushed back as we dealt with a tough and gruelling food truck season, fraught with problems and all our revenues being eaten. We apologize to the amazing neighbourhood for pulling out, but we’re only a few blocks away, and we’re happy to still be a part of that community, only a few blocks further east.

The Great News: We will be opening our storefront soon in a new location at 131 Ottawa St North, the recently-former location of Poco Loco. We have signed a three-year lease with the intent to purchase the building in one year. It is indeed sad that Hamilton will lose a great eatery in Poco Loco, but we promise to live up to the name Doug Lovelock established here, and will keep the spirit alive with his help, and perhaps with a sandwich dedicated in his honour.

This location is even better than we could have anticipated, with the perfect amount of seating and the ideal venue for a take-out establishment. Not to mention, it is on Ottawa Street, home to the most progressive and successful BIA I have ever encountered. I’ve dealt with many BIA’s, from some awesome ones in Hamilton to some not-as-awesome ones in Toronto and Niagara. I can say that Patti and Elisha are two of the most passionate and wonderful people I’ve ever had the pleasure to deal with, and I couldn’t ask for a better neighbourhood to set up shop, thanks to their excellence. Patti has talked me down from virtual ledges and continues to be an inspiration and mentor to me. THANK YOU, Patti! Also, my favourite restaurateurs in Hamilton, Matt and Erin from Rapscallion and Two Black Sheep are also opening a location right near us, and I’ve heard word of some other awesome Hamiltonian businesses that are eyeballing the area. EXCITING!!! We’re proud and freakin’ excited to be a part of this new community and ever-evolving street.

The new Ottawa Street location will take Gorilla Cheese to the next level, and is what I intended Gorilla Cheese to be since I first came up with the idea almost 20 years ago. Our menu for both the truck and the take-out will be greatly expanded with the possibilities that a bigger kitchen can provide. I have my sights firmly set on awesome new offerings, including the best breakfast sandwiches in Hamilton, gluten-free options and some excellent new side-dishes. Picture home-made baked beans, macaroni & cheese and some great new soups to go along with that cheese. I want Gorilla Cheese to be a fun place unlike any other, complete with music ranging from Slayer to Lady Gaga and a really fun and friendly atmosphere. I want it to be an experience and a destination that will make it worth it for people to travel to. And my next media-whoring goal? I want Gorilla Cheese to be on You Gotta Eat Here. Hello, Mr. Catucci?

Last, but not least (at least in my world) many or most of you may be aware that my friend of more than 25 years and partner left the business unexpectedly two years ago. It has been a very difficult couple of years, not only for the stresses involved in the break-up and various other tough circumstances over that time, but also in the sadness of losing what I thought was a good friend. It’s with a sense of bitter-sweetness that I can now say that I have just paid out my partner completely, fully and fairly, ahead of schedule and with all conditions met. Gorilla Cheese is now owned 100% by Graeme Smith, and we can now move ahead without the burden of that stress. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank my father and step-mother, Jim and Rebecca Smith for their immense help in getting me to this point, as we may not be here without their assistance. THANK YOU.

We will be moving forward with an updated logo, a new website, a new storefront and the excitement that our Dragons’ Den episode has stirred. Our Grilled Cheese Kingdom is almost complete, and after we settle in to that crazy status, we’ll look towards making a Grilled Cheese Empire. Keep in mind, that at this point, all of this is being done without the funding from the Dragons’ Den win. It is YOU, our families, friends, suppliers, supporters and customers that have brought us to this point.

An additional special shout-out of thanks to the following peeps:

My brother, Pete, my workhorse and my best friend who has stood beside me selflessly every step of the way. Your support means everything to me.
My mom, for your love, your support, and for your money, too. Also to my stepfather, Peter Bridges, who we lost to cancer, but who continues to be an inspiration to me to this day. We feel your loss immensely.
My Granny, for being awesome.
To my siblings Rory, Danis and Alex and their families for their unconditional love and support, despite my shortcomings in my duties as a brother.
My crew, who meet and constantly exceed the crazy and often-spontaneous demands of our company and the insane food-truck world.
My suppliers: Scott Jensen of Jensen Cheese – Thank god that the best cheese in the world is made locally! Josie and Nickey of Cake & Loaf Bakery for being Hamilton’s best bakery and supplying us with the best custom bread we could ever ask for; Jim Beattie of MarketFresh Produce, who has constantly met my crazy demands for basil and other stuff at ridiculous hours. All my suppliers have become our friends, and I thank them all for putting up with our crazy food truck demands. Enter a new era of even crazier demands! Looking forward to it.
Sid Friedman, who has done so much for the food truck scene in Southern Ontario, for both his undying support and tireless efforts in the local food industry.
Suresh Doss, who, along with Sid, has gone above and beyond not only to break us into the industry, but also to further the food truck movement and restaurant industry. And he throws some damned good events, too.
To Hamilton’s councillors, who helped pave the way for Hamilton, the best food truck city in Canada, most especially Chad Collins and Jason Farr. Russ Powers, you can bite it.
To Innovation Factory and all the Lions at the Lions Lair competition. You prove that Hamilton is the best city in which to be a business.
To my girl, Andi Nisbet, who is just awesome and makes me really, really happy.
To my buddies Greg Kotsopoulis, Rob Townsend and Jason Din for being my buddies through thick and thin. Yes, I meant that to rhyme.

Last but not least, additional thanks and love to our many customers, followers and supporters, who are indeed the most responsible for our successes. Gorilla Cheese thanks you from the bottoms of our hearts.



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