Most people are introduced to melted sandwiches through grilled cheese, served with Cheddar or American on buttered white bread. So it makes sense that this staple comfort food is featured prominently on the Melt Shop menu.
But founder Spencer Rubin wants people to know that Melt Shop isn’t a grilled-cheese concept. It’s a sandwich concept that goes far beyond orange cheese and white bread.
“The perception is that we are a grilled-cheese place, but when they get to the store, people say, ‘Whoa, we never knew you had so many options,’” Rubin says. “What we realized early on is that grilled cheese isn’t enough to drive a concept, and as we started to play with more protein-centered sandwiches, we realized the options were endless.”
Rubin, who opened the doors to the first Melt Shop location on his 25th birthday, says he collected sandwich recipes and ideas from friends, family members, chefs, and his own cooking experience.
Melt Shop bestsellers include the Fried Chicken, made with buttermilk-battered fried chicken breast with Pepper Jack cheese, red cabbage slaw, and proprietary “melt sauce” on sourdough bread. Other sandwiches include the Shroom, with Portobello mushroom, goat cheese, and parsley pesto on multigrain bread, and the Turkey Truffle, with smoked turkey, Mozzarella, bacon, arugula, and sherry vinaigrette on multigrain bread.
For grilled-cheese aficionados, Melt Shop offers the Classic with American and Cheddar on white. Other Melt Shop variations on the grilled cheese include the 3 Cheese, with Gruyere, Havarti, goat cheese, and roasted tomatoes on sourdough; the Maple Bacon, with sharp Cheddar, brick spread (a medium-soft cheese from Wisconsin), and maple bacon on white bread; and the Truffle Melt, with Havarti, truffle oil, and arugula on sourdough.
Founder/Managing Partner: Spencer Rubin
HQ: New York City
YEAR STARTED: 2011
ANNUAL SALES: Undisclosed
TOTAL UNITS: 8
FRANCHISE UNITS: 0
Melt Shop guests can also choose from three salads, and there is also homemade tomato soup. When it comes to sides, Rubin says, Melt Shop sells a ton of tater tots.
“Everyone does fries or chips, so we tried to be stylized and unique and do tots,” he says. “We fry them really hot; we figured out the perfect temperature so they get super crispy, and then we put Parmesan and parsley on them.”
Melt Shop is well known for its Nutella milkshake; other flavors include vanilla, chocolate truffle, Oreo, and strawberry.
With menu items like tots and shakes, it may seem like Melt Shop appeals to the young and young at heart, but Rubin says the concept’s core customers are “all over the map, and that’s part of the beauty of what we’re doing.” He says Melt Shop attracts people from all walks of life; the male-female split is 50-50. And while weekday lunch is the busiest daypart at the Midtown Manhattan store, mall locations are busier at dinner and on weekends.
Sandwiches are priced between $5 and $9, and the per-person check average at Melt Shop runs around $11. While not a huge seller, beer is also on the menu; the option of having alcohol with a sandwich and tots helps draw dinner patrons. Rubin says the decision to offer beer at all in-line locations “elevates the experience.”
“We’re maniacal about experience,” Rubin says. “Our goal is to be known as an experience-driven concept. That’s what’s great about the fast-casual space: You can deliver a super high-end product in a high-end environment and surprise people who are more accustomed to a fast-food atmosphere with the experience.”
The Melt Shop aesthetic is “stylized approachability,” he says. Warm wood, stone counters, and homey picnic tables are décor components designed to make the restaurants welcoming. Rubin wants the company culture to embrace that mentality, as well.
“It’s about being genuine,” he says. “The interaction is more than transactional, and to do that, we have to hire the right people. We can’t train that. We empower people to deliver that experience. If a guest has an issue and they want to try something different, sometimes employees at other places are scared to fix it.”
Rubin says Melt Shop will add five or six new stores by the end of 2016. That includes one that opened in January in Minnesota’s Mall of America that introduced the concept to not just Midwesterners, but also shoppers from around the world. He says growth will continue in Melt Shop’s existing New York and Washington, D.C., markets, plus plans are in the works to enter Philadelphia this year. “Our goal is to be national chain,” he says. “We think there’s a massive opportunity to deliver our high-quality products and experiences to guests all over the country. In five years, if we could have at least 50 stores, we’d be happy.”
Rubin says there are no immediate plans to franchise Melt Shop, but he wouldn’t rule out the possibility indefinitely.