The Inspiration For Starting Your Business
"Chipotle Mexican Grill provided a lot of inspiration" according to Eric. Chipotle is a successful Mexican Fast-Casual chain founded by Steve Ells, one of the investors on the Great American Restaurant reality TV series. Chipotle was dedicated to simplicity and great ingredients. Eric felt grown-up grilled cheese has the same attributes.
The Chipotle Story articulates 2 core principles that Steve Ells and most successful entrepreneurs adhere to: values and company culture. "Trevor and I are passionate about building a company that values people and encourages creativity and originality. Basically, we're trying to build the sort of company we'd want to work for." Said Eric.
Chipotle, the InspirationEric recognized that the Chipotle concept was brilliantly simple. According to Technomic, Fast-casual restaurant growth continues to outpace rest of industry . The top 100 chains grew 6% to nearly $18.9 Billion in 2010, much faster than 2009.
Eric said "If the Fast-casual format can work for Mexican food it can be applied to grilled cheese." So the process started by borrowing the best elements from Chipotle.
I asked Eric to paint a picture of the essence of the Meltworks concept. "I call it Modern Comfort. The store design has a residential feel… it looks like a loft style apartment. We are striving for the look of an independent operation and avoid the 'chain-eeness'. Far too many fast casual chains have slick graphics, safe colors and are brightly lit." He has a point. The Chipotle design has what the restaurant business calls an "industrial look"… lots of shiny steel, exposed ceilings, lighting that is more appropriate for a warehouse, concrete floors. Chipotle certainly has a defined look but clearly not as a comfortable social space.
Leverage Social Media
Social Media in food is important for any foodpreneurial venture. It is a low cost and effective way for a food entrepreneur to create buzz. Meltworks extensively uses Twitter and Facebook and they have garnered over 1000 twitter and facebook fans… impressive for a concept that is still waiting to open location #1. Eric says "We will use Facebook paid advertising and avoid traditional paid media. Our core demographic does not respond to paid media and other traditional media."
The Meltworks Target Customer
Eric, what does the Meltworks target customer look like? "We see our target market as 2 segments, young professionals and young urban dwellers. We held numerous tastings and trusted our own palates quite a bit. We tried well over 50 sandwich combinations in the kitchen. We had people fill out surveys based on sample menus and things like that to determine which items held the most appeal for people."
Starting Small for Healthy Long Term Growth
"We're going to focus on one store at a time and try to build a great culture and operating methodology and, if we're lucky, we'll expand and share that vision with others. We definitely hope we can expand in the future and we've attempted to design the concept in such a way that it is scalable, but our focus for now is on the first unit."