“Melted” Gains Following
Grilled cheese concept took inspiration from private sector.
MARQUETTE, Mich.—A bold take on the classic grilled cheese sandwich is paying big dividends for the dining service program at Northern Michigan University.
Melted opened earlier this semester in the C.B. Hedgcock Building on campus, where a tea shop once stood. The location takes the idea of grilled cheese and blows it out into a gourmet—or gourmand—occasion for customers.
At Melted, customers can buy a simple grilled cheese, choosing from nine different cheeses on one of five types of bread. They can choose to add one or two toppings, from a list that includes the usual—ham, bacon or mustard, for example—and the decidedly unusual—sweet roasted apples, sauerkraut, guacamole, jalapeños and giardiniera relish, to name a few.
Or they can choose one of Executive Chef Nathan Mileski’s own creations. According to Mileski, many customers do; the most popular is the Flying Dutchman, which is composed of smoked gouda, ham, sweet roasted apples and whole-grain Dijon mustard on rye bread.
“I was kind of skeptical about that one, with the smoked gouda and the apples,” he says. “But it’s been our best-selling sandwich, followed closely by The Goat, which is goat cheese, mozzarella, roasted red peppers, spinach, caramelized red onions, grilled mushrooms and pesto spread.”
There is even a dessert sandwich menu, all served on brioche. It includes S’Mores, made with mini marshmallows, Nutella and graham crackers; New York, New York, with strawberry preserves and New York cheesecake spread; and MI Apple Pie, with sweet roasted apples, cheddar cheese and candied walnuts.
The sandwiches sold here may not be mom’s idea of grilled cheese, but the location does sell Campbell’s tomato soup—in two forms, Grandma’s (made with milk) and Mom’s (made with water). Tomato soup is available in a shot, for 95 cents, or a cup, for $1.95. The location also offers a soup of the day.
Mileski notes that Melted is generating two and a quarter times the revenue the dining services department expected—not bad for a unit that went from conception to opening in about six weeks, and is open for only four hours a day, 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday.
“The first two weeks were pretty crazy,” he recalls. “We [sometimes] had a line 50 to 60 people deep. We’ve settled down a bit since then, but we’re still drawing them in.”
Ironically, when the tea concept, Temaki & Tea, closed, there were no plans to replace it.
“We had moved out of that space, and at first we weren’t going to put anything in its place,” Mileski explains. “It’s in a unique building with not a lot of traffic going through it. It houses admissions, residence life, student affairs, and some student organizations but no classrooms. But there is a beautiful lounge space that some students use for studying. I don’t think a regular deli would have had the draw, so we decided that if we were going to put anything in there it wasn’t going to be a quick grab-and-go type of thing.”
Inspired by what he knew of food trends, particularly those foods being sold out of food trucks, and what he learned by searching the web, Mileski settled on grilled cheese.
“I thought it was a perfect fit for a college campus,” he says. “We were going to take something that [students] love, but do it more upscale and gourmet.”
The menu is designed in stages based on college-level courses. Grilled Cheese 100 is a basic sandwich, with choice of cheese and bread. Grilled Cheese 200 allows customers to add one “fixin’” to the sandwich. Grilled Cheese 300 adds two items, and Grilled Cheese 400 is noted on the menu as “our graduate creations.” In addition to the Flying Dutchman and The Goat, other popular top-level sandwiches are Cheesy Mac & Swine (cheddar mac-n-cheese with pulled pork and caramelized red onion), Gobbling Reuben (turkey, Swiss, sauerkraut and Thousand Island dressing), and El Diablo (pepper jack, cheddar, jalapeños, fresh salsa and chipotle mayo).