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Aug 31, 2011 11:00 PM

The Melt - Fairly Epic Fail

One of my favorite kinds of restaurants are the ones with a small menu, but commit to serving those few items with heart and love. When I first saw the sign go up for "The Melt", I was excited and hoping that it really was going to be an amazing grilled cheese mecca. I waited in line, chatting happily about what was to come. The closer I got, and the more sandwiches I saw, the more I realized that my expectations were a tad too high. I guess I was hoping for crusty bread, a variety of melty, oozy cheeses, and variations with artisan hams, fresh herbs, maybe a grilled mushroom or two.

For $9, friend and I ordered the classic combo, cheddar grilled cheese and tomato soup. The bread was more reminiscent of Wonder than Arizmendi. The tomato soup tasted almost exactly like $1.99 Trader Joe's fare. And the warm baked chocolate chip cookie (extra $) was very supermarket-refrigerator-cookie-ish. It would have been fine for a mall in suburbia, but not for food-haven San Francisco and definitely not for the price.

They have a nice little logo, clean place, lovely packaging, very nice employees. But we can see right through the parchment! Especially when you have places like The Sentinel and even the Grove right around the corner. Anyone else out there try it yet? Am I being too harsh?

1268 Valencia St, San Francisco, CA 94110

The Melt
115 New Montgomery St, San Francisco, CA

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  1. They're planning to expand to 500 locations within five years, so most of their locations won't be near anyplace like Sentinel or Grove.

    20 Replies
    1. re: Robert Lauriston

      Sounds like a good way to blow a lot of investor money on a fad with a logo.

      Designing throwaway videocameras (Flip's original business, before they built cameras that lasted a little longer than single use) is not necessarily the best training for running a successful restaurant chain.

      1. re: Windy

        single taste business for me.

        1. re: Windy

          It's a very tech-driven concept. You can order via a smartphone app, then when you arrive you swipe your phone on a scanner and your food's supposed to be ready in two minutes. The kitchen uses patented presses with various innovations to cut cooking time and Silpat-covered plates to reduce the amount of butter required.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            It is inevitable and a good idea to meld the worlds of tech and food in order to streamline life in general. I appreciate the sentiment, but at the end of the day, you are serving food. My hopes for the future is that food doesn't trend towards being pumped out of a machine to save time, money, etc, while quality and nutrition suffers. Wait, that's already been happening!

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Reminds me of Chuck E. Cheese: a tech entrepeneur's fantasy of bringing technology-based food to the masses. I'm having some difficulty believing there's a lot of money to be made in supplying app-driven cheese sandwiches in the Midwest. I suspect they'll be too techy and expensive for most of the country and not gourmet enough for places like San Francisco and NY.

              Pity: like the OP, I was hoping for a really good grilled cheese option in the neighborhood. I'm not terribly impressed with the Grove's. I'd be interested in Canteen's take on grilled cheese, but I've never seen it there.

              1. re: johnq

                The VCs who are backing this have already made a lot of money off of Il Fornaio and a couple of chains in China, so they probably have reason to think it's a good bet. Presumably they're expecting the 500 locations to be in high-traffic locations with relatively affluent demographics where customers are impressed by recycling, composting, and charitable donations.

                Their model is something like Panera, which grew to around 1500 locations in ten years and has revenues of over a billion dollars a year.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Well, I guess we'll see. But if the food's not that good, they're going to have trouble with the affluent clientele they're looking for.

                  Another early warning sign: there's already a cheese-oriented Melt restaurant in SF: and a small grilled cheese chain with the same name in Ohio: I'd never heard of either of these, and ran across them trying to track down Melt's menu on-line, something that appears impossible, since they don't seem to have a website.

                  So a couple of issues. First, what's up with a technology-oriented restaurant that doesn't have a website prior to opening? Particularly a restaurant that's been building up hype around their app. If I were an investor, that would make me wonder a bit. A restaurant app is a gimick. A restaurant website is a necessity.

                  Second: it looks like no one cleared the name before they opened up. Different restaurants with the same name is not unknown, but there's no way they'll be able to build a chain with that name without dealing with the other Melts. Given the publicity they've built up, at least in San Francisco, they've simply handed the other SF Melt a golden opportunity to hold them up for some significant money.

                  That, plus the negative reports about the food, would lead me to believe that these people aren't quite ready for prime time yet.

                  1. re: johnq

                    though the menu page is "Coming Soon"

                    and there doesn't appear to be an Android App yet.

                    1. re: drewskiSF

                      Very odd. If you google "melt restaurant sf," this doesn't show up, at least in the first couple of pages. Googling "the melt" pulls it up.

                      Also, I'm having a little trouble understanding a restaurant web page that includes a detailed media fact sheet but no menu or store hours. If the damned thing weren't already open down the street from me I might be tempted to believe this was some kind of ironic joke in the nature of an Onion story designed to be utterly ridiculous but just close enough to reality that people might actually believe it.

                      1. re: johnq

                        Didn't find on Google either. I found it in a story on Eater SF or one of those type of sites.

                    2. re: johnq

                      Reports about the food on Chowhound seem irrelevant to me. They're going after more or less the same demographic as Chipotle.

                      34893 Newark Blvd, Newark, CA 94560

                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        I guess that speaks to the greater problem in my mind of quality versus quantity. *sigh* It is the way of the world, and for those of us who actually care about not only what we put into our bodies, but what society is putting into their bodies as well, it is another disappointing sign of the times. Perhaps they will be hugely successful and make tons of money, and I will push on as an advocate for better eating :)

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          "Reports about the food on Chowhound seem irrelevant to me. They're going after more or less the same demographic as Chipotle."

                          I get Chipotle. I'm not much interested in eating there, since there are much better Mexican options in town. But the idea of organic Mexican that's uniform and safe makes sense to me as a business model, particularly in areas that don't have many Mexican options.

                          Gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, on the other hand, doesn't immediately make sense to me, at least not as a national chain. My guess is this is basically a vanity project, and the professional restaurant guys are there for the ride. Anyone who was anywhere near Steve Wozniak in the US Festival days will recognize this syndrome.

                          I'd like to say I wish them luck, but if the food isn't that good I'd probably prefer that they fail, for the purely selfish reason that I'd prefer something better to open in that spot. Either way, I'll try it out in the next couple of days and report back.

                          1. re: johnq

                            Melt's concept strikes me as being more like that of Cereality than Chipotle. It' much easier to make a grilled cheese or bowl of cereal (hot or cold) at home than a burrito.

                            34893 Newark Blvd, Newark, CA 94560

                            1. re: Pei

                              Exactly. When you get people walking out of your restaurant saying "I could have made that at home in the same amount of time for a quarter the price" you're not going to get a lot of repeat business.

                              Just off the top of my head it seems like successful chains are either cheap (McDonald's model) or serve something most people won't take the trouble to make themselves (pizza, burritos). The quick order/pay system is not going to be unique for very long (I noticed today one of the places near my office is touting Level Up), so for $9 it better be damn good grilled cheese and soup!

                        2. re: johnq

                          Melt in Cleveland is indeed small, but by choice - Chef has resisted selling out on several occasions. Lines are frequently 2+ hours long and that was even before the Man vs. Food insanity made the wait even longer.

                          IMO I'd put Melt Cleveland up against any sandwich shop in the US for originality/creativity and what they give back to the community....and to be fair, they're pretty damned delicious, too.


                            1. re: drewskiSF

                              "slightly warped individuals" doesn't even begin to explain that.

                              1. re: drewskiSF

                                No - but I know someone that did. :-)

                                It is more than slightly warped - but they really do have a huge following here and considering Cleveland's Sports Teams it is nice for them to have something unique to be proud of.

                                Me - I live in Columbus. We have Jeni's Ice Cream and the Buckeyes. We don't need, well, I guess our football players did.


                        3. re: johnq

                          And VCs have never been wrong about understanding the needs of regular people?

                          The very people who would be nostalgic about grilled cheese and tomato soup are home making lunch, out of work (not looking for $9 lunches), or as johnq says, looking for a fancier interpretation (Hog Island's grilled cheese is worth the premium).

                          At least a grilled cheese truck that pulls up outside your community college would add convenience.

                          Even I know how to make grilled cheese.

                  2. I have to say that JJSpinach's picture looks really pathetic.

                    I was think along a similar vein - like the types of grilled cheese I used to get at Campanile's in Los Angeles on grilled cheese night; amazing on La Brea Bakery bread...

                    I am very disinclined to waste money at The Melt.

                    1. what are those green speckles of stuff on the bread?

                      or is my monitor way off?

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: drewskiSF

                        Herbs of course! Haha. They sprinkled on a few to make it look pretty ,I guess.

                      2. I agree, that Melt photo is really sad. I'm attaching a photo of my grilled cheese & ham with tomato soup from American Grilled Cheese Kitchen from 2 weeks ago for comparison, though that lunch ran me $12 + tax. The cheese was not quite melted enough in this sandwich, but this is more along the lines of what I'm looking for in a grilled cheese & tomato soup lunch than what I see in the photo from The Melt.

                        The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen
                        1 South Park Ave, San Francisco, CA 94107

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: Frosty Melon

                          Agreed! JohnQ, this is a good option in our neck of the woods, but a little far for me most days for a lunch walk.

                            1. re: Frosty Melon

                              Too bad - I was fairly hopeful as well as The Melt is fairly close to my workplace, but that photo of The Melt's GC sandwich looks like something I could do at home by half-trying.

                              I guess if I want a GC badly enough, I can hoof it over to The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen for their offerings. It's a bit of a decent walk from my workplace, but I've done it before.

                            2. We went yesterday as well, and neither of us were very impressed with the offerings. The prices were too high for the quality of the ingredients and prep, and I didn't see much creativity on the menu.

                              He had the gouda and I the swiss grilled cheese, and we shared a canned-tasting mushroom soup. I don't think people will be lining up here for long once it's clear that this place isn't very good...but I've been wrong before.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: pane

                                I checked the place out this afternoon. They had a fairly good crowd for 2:00 on a Monday: 8-10 customers at any given time and a fair amount of turnover. Mostly Academy of Arts students, I'd guess. On the other hand, there are a number of casual spots in that strip of New Montgomery, and many of the others looked considerably more crowded than The Melt.

                                As for the food, it's just not worth it. $8.95 for their special, which is grilled cheddar cheese on potato bread plus a cup of tomato soup. They offer free tomatoes on the grilled cheese, which I asked for.

                                The grilled cheese was at best mediocre. The cheese had the texture of heated Velveeta and little to no taste. The potato bread was OK, but a bit limp from the melted cheese, and not interesting in any way. The tomato soup was memorable, in that I could taste it for several hours afterwards. Not a pleasant taste. I'm pretty sure it had spent quite a bit of time in a vat over a heat source and ended up bitter.

                                A thoroughly mediocre meal. I have no problem with well-done fast food. Though I don't eat much at McDonald's, for example, they turn out food that appeals to their demographic and tastes good, if that's the kind of thing you like. I can't say the same thing about The Melt. The food simply doesn't taste very good.

                                So I don't get the hype. Or, I guess I really do get it, and it has a lot more to do with lots of money and high-profile backers than food quality. As I said before, it reminds me of Chuck E. Cheese: Silicon Valley money, high profile concept, lots of hype, plans to expand everywhere. But they forgot to make the food taste good. Same problem here.

                                1. re: johnq

                                  at least the online menu is up now ;-)

                                  1. re: johnq

                                    Thanks for the update! I actually had a co-worker recommend the place to me via word of mouth, but I talked her out of it...