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Emerging Brands

5 things to know about: Tom & Chee

How an iconic Cincinnati chili concept is finally getting ready to grow its melt concept—after some pandemic-fueled fits and starts.
Tom & Chee
Photo courtesy Tom & Chee

Buzzworthy Brands is a bi-weekly Restaurant Business podcast and feature highlighting innovative growth brands.

GSR Brands, the parent of Cincinnati’s iconic Gold Star chili concept, acquired Tom & Chee in late 2017.

At the time, Tom & Chee was a grilled cheese and soup brand with a cult following. It had been featured on “Shark Tank” and other TV shows. By 2019, GSR had ambitious plans for Tom & Chee. But then came the pandemic. Now, with some crucial changes, the company is getting ready to grow its nine-unit melt concept. Listen to this Buzzworthy Brands interview with Roger David, president and CEO of Gold Star Brands, about what’s ahead for Tom & Chee.

And here are five things to know about Tom & Chee:

  1. Tom & Chee’s menu continues to evolve. “The brand today is really focused on melts and grilled cheese sandwiches and soups and salads, but we are constantly evolving the concept to ensure it has the right brand appeal and can generate the volumes that we’re seeking,” David said. “Anything called a grilled cheese has a particular price point that you can’t exceed. … We had to figure out how to elevate the sandwich. That’s when we evolved the concept to melts.”
  2. Tom & Chee has nine units, with three more restaurants in the pipeline. It recently rolled out a new prototype with a simplified menu focused on protein-based melt sandwiches and a smaller square footage to account for more off-premise business.
  3. Don’t expect Tom & Chee to get into ghost kitchens any time soon. “It’s going to be interesting to see whether or not these ghost kitchens … really have legs and longevity,” he said. “You still need to market the fact that you’re out there.”
  4. Labor remains a major pain point, he said, adding that both of his brands are probably 20% below optimum staffing levels. “In some cases, we’ve had to close dining rooms and do off-premise service,” David said.
  5. Big menu changes are afoot to “broaden the concept’s appeal and reach higher volumes,” he said, adding that changes will come in the next year. Tom & Chee is also working with a consultant to boost back-of-house efficiency.

 

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