April 20, 2015
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!!