For many people, the ideal lunch on a cold snowy day in the winter is grilled cheese and tomato soup. Thanks to two local entrepreneurs and an Ohio business that gained national attention on a popular television show local, residents can have countless varieties of their favorite sandwich throughout the year.
Lynn Eckel and her husband, Timothy, opened the first franchise of Cincinnati-based Tom + Chee in New Jersey this week. Star power at the event was provided by local baseball star Todd Frazier and Barbara Corcoran of the ABC show "Shark Tank." The shop is located in the Burlington Coat Factory shopping center where the old New England Hot Dog location used to be.
Eckel said she knew she wanted to get involved in the business as soon as she saw the founders on the show.
"I saw it, I loved the concept, I thought there’s nothing around here like it," she said. "I always ate grilled cheese and tomato soup as a kid. Everybody eats it and the price points are really good."
Corey Ward, who started the business with partner Trew Quackenbush, said that while they had made a name for themselves in their hometown their goal was always to go bigger.
“From the time we started it was what we needed to do,” he said. “We were selling pretty inexpensive grilled cheese. We knew if we were going to support both of us we needed to sell a lot of grilled cheese.”
Ward said the goal is not just quantity for the Tom + Chee success but also quality. Keeping it simple. That’s the whole concept,” he said. “Start with something basic, do it really well and make some awesome food that people really like.”
At the moment the Freehold location is the farthest east of the Chain and the next closest stores are the original in Ohio. Ward said over the course of the year that will change dramatically. Before going on Shark Tank there were three Tom + Chee’s and there are close to 40 more coming this year alone.
It was Corcoran who bought into the idea of a pair of Ohio business owners to bring grilled cheese and soup to the masses.
It was Corcoran who bought into the idea of bringing grilled cheese and soup to the masses on the show.
“I thought, okay, grilled cheese and soup. I like it because it’s American. But what I liked right away were their faces. I fell in love with their faces.” As she learned more about the business plan she said she knew the idea could work. “They have a formula that everybody loves,” she added. “With a wonderful imagination they’ve got a million variations.”
For Frazier Monday’s grand opening brought his professional life together with his home life. As a member of the Cincinnati Reds Frazier said he has become familiar with the Tom + Chee brand. He also said the Eckel’s are family friends from his days growing up in Toms River and playing baseball all along the Jersey Shore.
“It’s a family business, it’s family friendly and I’m very excited to be here for them and the business.”
The menu for Tom+Chee is extensive and also allows customers to make their own creations on everything from white bread to a glazed donut. For Frazier, his favorite is the Bacon+Blue which is bacon, blue cheese and mozzarella cheese on sourdough bread.
The Grilled Cheese Donut also caught the attention of Adam Richman from Travel Channel’s Man V. Food. Video from the show can be seen here.