When Corey Ward and Trew Quackenbush decided to sell grilled cheese and tomato soup to ice skaters on Fountain Square last winter, not everyone was convinced it would work. The operators of the Square were skeptical that Ward, a freelance designer, and Quackenbush, a professional chef, could succeed where others had failed.
"They knew that this was our first venture, and the two [food vendors] before us hadn't done well at all," Ward said. "They were looking out for us, but we hassled them enough that they finally said 'just do it.'"
The deciding factor was a batch of freshly cooked grilled cheeses that the men delivered to the 3CDC offices, Ward said.
Now, one year after they sold their first sandwich, the two men and their wives have opened a permanent restaurant location for their business, called Tom + Chee
, on Court Street. They will serve lunch there starting at 11 a.m. Monday through Friday.
The Tom + Chee menu offers simple grilled cheeses and tomato soups, but many of their sandwiches have a twist. Doughnuts are a bread option, and ingredients include bacon and barbeque potato chips. With the new space and an oven, Tom and Chee will soon offer pot pies and new sandwiches, including a complete line of peanut butter and jelly.
"It's comfort food for the masses," Ward said. "It's simple food that can be done well."
All soups, which are designed by Quackenbush, will have tomato and/or cheese as an ingredient.
Quackenbush's wife, Jennifer, and Ward now run the new location while their spouses work other jobs. Quackenbush said that their concept is successful because it's cheap, but most importantly because it offers food that makes people feel good.
"Some people walk by and they see 'grilled cheese,' and they giggle, then they walk back ten minutes later and order one," Quackenbush said. "If they don't know what they want for lunch, they can settle for some good, old childhood memories."
The new location is their first step towards a larger presence in Greater Cincinnati. They plan to eventually open other locations, specifically one near the University of Cincinnati Campus. There, Ward said, some of their more creative offerings will finally reach their full potential.
"Then you could get a grilled cheese with barbeque chips and bacon on a doughnut at three in the morning," he said. "That's the way it should be."
Writer: Henry SweetsPhotography by Scott Beseler.