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Say cheese: Tom + Chee coming to High Street in November

Students looking to stretch their stomachs, but not necessarily their wallets, might get the chance, as High Street is set to get a new grilled cheese and tomato soup shop in the wake of two restaurants closing.

Cincinnati-based Tom + Chee is slated to open its doors Nov. 14 at 1980 A. N. High Street, and it hopes to bring students tasty, affordable and natural comfort food, an owner said.

”Grilled cheese caters well to the student population and we’ve got healthy choices,” said Ron Freeman, owner of the upcoming Tom + Chee campus location.

Freeman — who also owns the two other Central Ohio Tom + Chee locations in Pickerington and Hilliard — said the shop is set to serve sandwiches that have hand-crafted meats, cheeses sliced in-house and soups that don’t contain sugar, but are sweetened naturally.

“The founders were very, very adamant about keeping it all very, very natural,” he said.

Those founders —  Corey Ward and Trew Quackenbush — debuted the restaurant in 2009, before pitching their business idea on ABC’s entrepreneurship competition show, “Shark Tank.”

Since then, the chain has opened more than 150 franchise locations in 20 states.

The Ohio State location is set to serve items such as the Tom+Chee, which consists of tomatoes, garlic seasoning, cheddar and mozzarella cheeses on sourdough bread. It’s set to cost $4.95.

The most expensive grilled cheese on the menu — the Armagoetta — features goetta cheese, cherry peppers, fried onions, sweet hot mustard and pepper jack cheese, served on sourdough and rye breads and is set to cost $7.95.

The restaurant also plans to serve up grilled cheese doughnuts — such as the Blueberry Blue, consisting of blueberry compote, blue cheese and lemon mascarpone on a glazed doughnut, which will cost patrons $5.45.

Tom + Chee is also set to have gluten free, vegan and vegetarian options available, in addition to salads and soups.

Those with a heftier appetite are encouraged to partake in the “Baker’s Dozen Challenge,” Freeman said, which consists of eating 13 grilled cheese doughnuts in 10 minutes with one beverage and no bathroom break.

“It’s tough, I’ve done it. I got to seven,” Freeman said.

So far, only two people were able to conquer the challenge in Columbus, he said.

Winners get a T-shirt, a Facebook shoutout and their meal paid for, he added.

Guests might remember the upcoming Tom + Chee location as the former Pera Fresh Istanbul Food, which Freeman said he purchased Sept. 1.

”We had been watching it (the Pera location) for a while and we managed to get things where we wanted them price-wise and we came to an agreement with the former owner and purchased it, and away we go,” Freeman said.

The owner of Pera, Faith Gunal, did not provide comment Sunday as to why his business closed.

Freeman speculated the closing of Pera and other restaurants in the area were because of poor conceptions, not location.

“McDonald’s knows how to pick real estate, why wouldn’t you wanna be next to McDonald’s?” said Freeman, whose business is next to the fast food company.

Red Robin’s Burger Works, located at 1708 N. High St., also closed recently, but a Red Robin spokeswoman said Thursday that she had no further details as to why.

However, the property owner, Scott Schiff, said the closing probably had to do with a lack of business.

“Columbus, Ohio — being known as the test market, particularly the university area — (Burger Works) tried it, and they didn’t like the results, so they moved on. You know, if somebody can’t make money on High Street at Ohio State University, they ain’t going to make money anywhere because it’s just so dense a population,” Schiff said.

Still, some students said they are satisfied to see a grilled cheese restaurant that uses natural ingredients move into the area.

“That definitely makes a difference when comparing places,” said Nick Miller, a second-year in biology. “Like between Qdoba and Chipotle, I’d pick Chipotle because they’re organic, and with the way they raise their stuff.”

Others, like Stephanie Hoagland, a second-year in zoology, were a little more skeptical about the natural food’s appeal.

“It’s a really cool pitch to get people to come in, but at the same time, if it’s just a bunch of different kinds of grilled cheese, you could buy those same supplies and make it in your home. So I don’t know if that would contribute to the restaurant’s success on campus,” she said.

Still, Tom + Chee will be working on developing a Columbus-themed sandwich to add to the menu, which they are seeking student suggestions for because the company can’t decide what it should be, general manager Dan Tully said.

”Columbus is a little of everything, there is nothing that specifically sticks out with us,” he said.

The restaurant’s normal business hours will be 10:45 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, Freeman said. They will be open 10:45 a.m. to 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Tom and Chee will also deliver through food delivery service Order Up starting Nov. 17, Freeman said.

Nick Roll and Ingrid Gardner contributed to this story.

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