Food trucks tend to congregate with one another on key downtown streets. Now they’re following the same pattern when they go the brick-and-mortar route.
O’Cheeze, the three-year-old enterprise that specializes in grilled cheese sandwiches (in all their buttery, gooey, toasty goodness), is the latest to land a permanent berth. Co-owners and spouses Haley and Tony Fritz just signed a lease on the skyway level of the Baker Building at 7th Street and Marquette Avenue, next door to fellow food truckers Vellee Deli and Green + the Grain.
“The food truck community is tight, and it’s exciting to create a kind of a hub for those of us who have grown out of our trucks,” said Tony Fritz. “We looked at a lot of spaces, and it’s gratifying to finally have it signed, and finalized, and done.”
The 1,600-square foot location combines a former pizza slice shop and a recently closed convenience store. That’s room enough for a 20- to 30-seat dining room, but, more important, for a kitchen that the couple can finally call their own, after several years of sharing commissary space (at a nerve-wracking hourly rate) with others.
The kitchen will not only serve the restaurant, but will also support the business’ two trucks, named, yes, Old Bleu and Little Colby. The roomier facility will translate into expanded menu, one that will start with a series of grab-and-go breakfast sandwiches (think huevos rancheros-style grilled cheese, and other egg-boosted ideas) as well as an expanded lunch menu.
“Instead of the one or two soups that we now have on hand, we’ll be able to offer four or five,” said Haley Fritz. “And rather than the five sandwiches that we can showcase on the trucks, we’ll be able to have 10 or more grilled cheese options.”
More salads, too, plus a wider range of dairy-based desserts: cheesecakes, custards, flans.
Why make the jump? Because the truck business is booked solid.
“It’s a weird problem, having to say ‘No’ to people,” said Tony Fritz. “And by opening a permanent location, it de-seasonalizes us, and will allow the people who miss us in the winter — and we hope that there are people who miss us in the winter — to find us. We’re lucky. We love what we do. There aren’t a lot of people who can say that they flip grilled cheeses for a living, and they can support their kids doing it.”
The Fritzes project that when the restaurant and two trucks are going full tilt, they'll have more than 30 employees on the payroll. The restaurant's target opening date is early June.