While some other restaurants’ menus are simplistic in concept, Matt Fish said part of his restaurant’s goal is to provide gourmet entrées — on a grilled cheese sandwich.
“If we can make it and put it on a sandwich, we’re going to do it. We’ve tried every nationality, every cuisine possible and it’s really worked for us,” Fish said
Melt Bar and Grilled, a Cleveland-based restaurant specializing in grilled cheese sandwiches with gourmet ingredients, opened its first store in Columbus — and first beyond the Cleveland area — at 840 N. High St. in the Short North Arts District Friday.
“Melt came about because of my dream to open the perfect restaurant,” Fish said. “I wanted to open up a place that was accessible to everybody, serve gourmet food but present it in a way that everyone could appreciate it and understand what it was and in a bar-type setting.”
After seeing the Cleveland area’s lack of craft beer bars, Fish said the original idea was to open a beer bar that primarily served craft beers, as well as having a menu of 30 types of grilled cheese sandwiches that he would make.
“I’m a culinary guy,” Fish said. “It all kind of flip-flopped. After opening, soon people found out we were serving these amazing grilled cheese sandwiches.”
Fish said the success of serving the sandwiches became the main focus of the restaurant, which was founded in 2006.
“I wanted to open up a bar that served really great food,” Fish said. “And I ended up opening up a restaurant that had a really good beer list.”
The restaurant has a happy hour special Monday through Thursday from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. where patrons can get $1 off draft beers.
The specialty grilled cheese sandwiches range in cost from about $6.50 to $14.50. The restaurant also offers appetizers ranging in cost from about $6 to $8, soups from $3.50 to about $4 a bowl, salads from $6 to $10.50 and burgers starting at $10 with additional toppings costing extra.
Fish said Melt’s menu is seasonal and changes every four months, and includes a monthly special sandwich, which is themed around a different holiday.
In Cleveland, Fish said Melt has biweekly sandwich specials designed around certain movies playing at the local movie house, Cleveland Cinemas, as part of the Melt Bar and Grilled Late Shift film series. He said once the Columbus store is settled in, he would like to find a theater that would be interested in the concept.
Fish said the decision to open up a location in Columbus, which he estimated cost more than $100,000, was “sort of strategic.”
“(The developers of the building) were looking for something that Columbus had never seen before,” Fish said. “And they wanted to put a signature type restaurant in this facility.”
Fish said he had looked at the Columbus market to open up a store for more than three years, but was not ready to “pull the trigger.” After the developers approached Fish more than a year and a half ago, he said he thought the opportunity would never come again.
“This facility, with it being in the Short North, in a new building with a parking garage attached to it, it just seemed like the perfect storm.” Fish said.
Fish said opening up the store in Columbus has been “a fun adventure.”
“The entire community down here has been very supportive of us,” Fish said. “It’s very welcoming. We have never felt once like the outsiders. We automatically felt like we’re part of the community.”
James Harbaugh, 22, and Nick Smith, 21, of Columbus, said they would return to the Columbus location, after trying it in Cleveland.
“I’m definitely returning,” Harbaugh said. “It was really good.”
Smith said after a mix-up with his order at the Columbus Melt, the staff was very nice in fixing the problem.
“I’m definitely trying out the Melt challenge the next time I visit,” Smith said.
The Melt challenge is a contest in which patrons eat a grilled cheese sandwich with 13 different cheeses and three grilled bread slices, which is served with a side of fries and coleslaw, weighing in at more than five pounds. Those who finish the meal by themselves without interruptions are awarded a Melt T-shirt or pint glass, a $10 gift card and their name listed on the restaurant’s online Melt challenge hall of fame, according to the restaurant’s website.
As for Melt’s future, Fish said ideally, he sees another location opening in the Columbus area and said he would look to open a location in Dublin, Easton or Polaris as well.
“Everybody asks about the magic number,” Fish said of continuing Melt’s growth. “If Columbus is our fifth store and something happens and we have to stop at five, we stop at five. But if we can take this and blow it out, go nationwide and open up 100 stores with one in every state, why not? If we can do it, let’s do it.”
The restaurant’s kitchen hours of operation are Monday through Thursday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. The bar is open every night until 2 a.m.