Why Rubin? In just over three years, Rubin has taken Melt Shop from an idea to three units in New York City, with four more slated to open in 2014. And he did it all before turning 30. Rubin put in time to learn the industry. In addition to prep cook jobs in high school, a degree in restaurant development and various internships, he spent two and a half years post-college working as a project manager for Branded Concept Development, a restaurant development firm. There he learned how to build a restaurant and got a taste for fast casual. He also met connections with deep pockets. When he was ready to launch his own restaurant, those contacts became the major backers of his project. Melt Shop took off, and its $11 average check helped bring profit and hordes of customers—and helped Rubin make his case to outside investors for future growth capital.
Why grilled cheese? I started the brainstorming process in the middle of the burger craze. I saw how people were going bonkers for burgers. To me, this was the next logical step; it brings in a never-ending list of possibilities with more opportunity for variation. It’s American nostalgic comfort food at its core. There’s a lot of familiarity with the product, so it has lots of legs. Its scalable and approachable; it can go anywhere in the country and be a hit.
What have you learned from expanding? The jump from store one to store two to store three has taught us a lot and helped us grow. We’ve gone from a 300-foot kiosk to a 1,500-square-foot restaurant. With the bigger size, sales at the new unit should double that of the first store. If I’m proudest of anything, it’s how quickly we’ve adapted and grown to improve the concept. We’re tweaking as we go. We’ve tried so many different pieces of equipment and worked on different ways of breaking down and prepping dishes. With this third store ... we’ve found a way to produce product quickly using old school grills instead of high-tech panini presses. We’ve worked hard to evolve.
Any advice for others looking to enter the boutique fast-casual market? Make sure you partner with the right vendors and keep quality in mind. Price point is a touchy subject, so do your homework. Crunch the numbers and make sure you’re pricing yourself where you need to be so you’re not biting off more than you can chew. Artisanal ingredients are so expensive. That’s why sourcing is so important. It’s also crucial to build relationships with your vendors. You need to always analyze the numbers so you can profit as well.