In the exciting world of entrepreneurial ventures, few experiences are as captivating as appearing on the hit TV show Shark Tank.
One such business that caught the attention of the sharks and viewers alike was Tom and Chee, a unique gourmet grilled cheese and tomato soup concept. After a successful pitch on the show, Tom and Chee received investment offers and entered into a partnership with Barbara Corcoran and Mark Cuban. However, the journey didn’t end there.
This article delves into what transpired after their Shark Tank appearance, exploring the ups and downs, challenges faced, and the current status of Tom and Chee. Discover how this beloved comfort food brand fared in the ever-changing landscape of the culinary industry.
What Is Tom and Chee?
The establishment was established in 2009 by Drew Quackenbush and Corey Ward, who embarked on their entrepreneurial journey by erecting a canopy and griddle outside an ice skating rink in Cincinnati, Ohio, despite cautionary advice from the local mayor indicating that the site had never yielded profits.
Insufficient funds hindered their ability to operate a restaurant, a mobile kitchen, or even a food trolley.
Drew Quackenbush and Corey Ward, two individuals with an ardent devotion to culinary arts, laid the foundations of Tom and Chee in 2009.
Commencing their venture with meager resources – a mere canopy and a griddle – they established themselves adjacent to a skating rink in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Enduring initial obstacles and generating a meager $35 on their inaugural day, they exhibited unwavering determination and returned the following summer with adequate capital to launch their enterprise.
Their concept stemmed from the timeless amalgamation of tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.
Presently, they boast a total of five establishments, with one of them offering an innovative variation of the traditional grilled cheese experience by serving it atop a delectable donut.
Tom And Chee Products:
- Handcrafted Melts: Tom and Chee is renowned for its gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, also known as “melts”. These sandwiches feature a combination of premium cheeses, carefully selected ingredients, and artisanal bread. From classic options like the Traditional Melt with cheddar cheese to creative variations like the BBQ Bacon Melt, there is a melt to satisfy every cheese lover’s cravings;
- Handcrafted Salads: For those seeking a lighter option, Tom and Chee also offers handcrafted salads. These salads are made with fresh, crisp greens and a variety of flavorful toppings. Whether you prefer a classic Caesar Salad or a more adventurous option like the Harvest Salad with seasonal fruits and nuts, the salad menu provides a refreshing and wholesome choice;
- Homemade Soups: To complement their melts and salads, Tom and Chee serves homemade soups that are crafted with care and quality ingredients. From comforting classics like Tomato Soup to unique creations like Creamy Tomato Basil or Chicken Noodle, their soups offer a comforting and flavorful experience, perfect for dipping your melt or enjoying on its own;
- Sweet Cheets: As a treat for your sweet tooth, Tom and Chee offers a selection of Sweet Cheets. These indulgent delights include mouthwatering desserts like Grilled Cheesecake Sandwiches, Grilled S’more Donuts, or Grilled Chocolate Sandwiches. These unique and irresistible creations are sure to satisfy any dessert cravings;
- Side Items: To complement your main meal, Tom and Chee provides a variety of side items to choose from. These include classic favorites like hand-cut fries, tater tots, and homemade chips. These sides add an extra element of deliciousness to your dining experience;
- Kid’s Meal: Tom and Chee caters to younger diners with their Kid’s Meal options. These meals offer smaller portions of their handcrafted melts, accompanied by kid-friendly sides and drinks. It’s a perfect choice to keep the little ones happy and satisfied;
- Drinks: To quench your thirst, Tom and Chee offers a range of refreshing beverage options. From fountain drinks to iced tea, lemonade, and even specialty drinks, you’ll find a beverage to complement your meal ;
About Founders Of Tom and Chee
Tom and Chee emerged from the creative minds of Drew Quackenbush and Corey Ward during the winter season of 2009 . It all began when Corey envisioned a charming eatery that would cater to the inner child with a delightful selection of grilled cheese and tomato soup.
However, financial constraints prevented Drew and Corey from establishing a full-fledged restaurant, a mobile kitchen, or even a modest food cart. Despite this setback, their determination prevailed, and armed with limited funds, they resorted to a humble tent and griddle.
Undeterred by warnings from the local authorities that the chosen spot, an ice skating rink in Cincinnati, Ohio, had never yielded profitability, they forged ahead. Although their initial earnings amounted to a mere $35 on the inaugural day, their unwavering conviction in transforming their dreams into reality compelled them to persevere. They returned the following summer, steadfast in their pursuit. After 364 days of pitching their tent, their hard work bore fruit as they amassed sufficient funds to open their first brick-and-mortar store.
Following months of arduous labor and meticulous planning by Drew and Corey, the doors of Tom and Chee’s inaugural establishment swung open in Cincinnati, and the response was nothing short of extraordinary. Eager patrons willingly endured wait times exceeding an hour and a half, enticed by the eatery’s distinctive culinary offerings, including the tantalizing grilled cheese donut.
Witnessing the growing popularity of their eatery and their unparalleled creativity, a local mall approached Drew and Corey with an irresistible proposal for a second location. As news of Tom and Chee’s innovative menu spread like wildfire, the local media clamored to interview them, with notable figures like Adam Richmond from “Man vs. Food” among the enthusiasts .
The subsequent exposure on Adam’s show, as well as other media outlets, triggered a substantial surge in sales for their two existing stores. Among the many devoted customers who braved the lengthy queues, the Tinsley family from Louisville, Kentucky, fell head over heels for Tom and Chee’s concept, ultimately expressing a desire to own a franchise. With the necessary support, Drew, Corey, and the Tinsley family successfully launched their first franchise in Kentucky.
However, the ambitious duo harbored grand plans for expanding their franchising endeavors, realizing that they required additional investment. After sending numerous emails to the show’s producers, their persistence paid off when they received an exciting response from “Shark Tank” confirming their participation on the popular television program.
The Pitch Of Tom and Chee At Shark Tank
In season four, Drew and Corey eagerly stepped into the Shark Tank, seeking a $600,000 investment for a 10% stake in their company . They commenced their pitch by recounting the story of their humble beginnings and highlighting the immense popularity of their one-of-a-kind culinary creations, notably the grilled cheese donut.
Initially hesitant, the sharks hesitantly took a bite of this renowned donut, and to their surprise, Robert admitted that it was quite delicious. Intrigued by the concept, Mark sought further details about their menu, particularly their signature sandwiches like the barbeque bacon, while emphasizing the affordability factor for the local Cincinnati market.
Kevin, known for his discerning palate and sharp scrutiny of prices, wasted no time in questioning, “Is “Crap” the brand?” Drew promptly rose to the occasion, defending their restaurant and clarifying their mission of providing affordable food options amidst a challenging economic climate. Barbara, captivated by their impressive sales figures and captivating customer stories, made an immediate offer of $300,000 for a 15% stake, with the condition that another shark joined her since they needed the full $600,000.
However, Daymond, driven by his commitment to promoting healthier products, felt that the concept didn’t align with his vision and opted out.
While Kevin remained on the fence, enticed by the enticing financial figures yet skeptical of the concept’s success, he decided to take a plunge and offered $100,000 for a 5% stake. Robert, similarly swayed by the numbers and the overall appeal, joined Kevin with a matching offer of $100,000 for 5%. Still short of their desired investment, the duo needed an additional $100,000. With all eyes on Mark, he expressed his reservations about a lower investment amount, deeming it unworthy of his time.
Drew and Corey, who had their sights set on partnering with Barbara and Mark from the outset, enthusiastically accepted their offer. Departing the Shark Tank with a newfound sense of excitement, they had successfully secured the backing of the sharks they had hoped for, paving the way for a promising future.
Tom and Chee After The Shark Tank
Regrettably, Mark’s involvement in the deal fell through. He expressed a preference for the company to solely own all the stores rather than pursuing franchising. However, Drew and Corey firmly believed that franchising would be the superior path forward. Besides, they lacked the necessary funds to proceed according to Mark’s vision. Noticing their strong stance, the shark eventually withdrew from the agreement.
On the other hand, Barbara remained highly intrigued by the prospect of collaborating with the duo. Ultimately, she presented them with a fresh proposition, although the specific details remain undisclosed.
At the end of the day, it was still a triumph. Not only did they secure a partnership with Barbara, but their appearance on the show also granted them invaluable exposure, resulting in a significant boost in sales.
Within a span of two years, they received an astounding influx of over 25,000 franchise inquiries. With Barbara’s assistance, they successfully identified promising locations for their new franchisees. By 2018, they proudly inaugurated 25 stores throughout the United States, with over 150 contracts in progress . Furthermore, they revamped their menus, opting for vibrant interior displays instead of conventional chalkboards to captivate customers’ attention.
However, they soon encountered a series of challenges. In a subsequent update, it was revealed that their rapid expansion had outpaced their capacity to provide sufficient support to the franchisees. Compounding the issue, many of the franchisees lacked prior experience in the food service industry. Ultimately, the company’s assets were seized by their bank.
The following year, GSR Brands, the parent company of Cincinnati’s Gold Star Chili, acquired the company’s assets from the bank for an undisclosed sum. Based on available information, it appears that Trew and Corey maintained their involvement with the company. Trew focused on menu development, while Corey dedicated his efforts to marketing initiatives.
While GSR temporarily closed several stores between 2018 and 2019, they eventually reopened some at the beginning of 2020. They concurrently underwent a comprehensive rebranding process, replacing conventional grilled cheeses with “melts” that allow for greater customization. As part of this transformation, they also transitioned to using ovens, significantly reducing preparation time from six minutes to a mere 90 seconds.
Unfortunately, their expansion plans were put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the closure of numerous stores. As of April 2021, only seven stores remained operational, including the newly rebranded Tom & Chee location.
As of 2023, the company has successfully opened several new franchised stores in Oklahoma City, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh . And their journey is far from over— they continue to offer franchise opportunities to interested parties and have ambitious plans for expansion with a fresh business model.
Tom And Chee Franchise
During the autumn of 2017, GSR Brands, a well-established franchise business with extensive experience in cultivating franchise concepts and supporting restaurant entrepreneurs, officially acquired Tom & Chee. At that time, Tom & Chee had 23 locations, and with the support of GSR Brands, a promising future was in sight.
Under the guidance of GSR Brands, Tom & Chee underwent a transformation, simplifying its business model, refining the menu offerings, and optimizing restaurant operations. The new leadership team implemented enhanced training programs and provided ongoing support to franchisees. They also introduced a fresh restaurant design that not only reduced the physical space required but also lowered operational costs while creating an inviting and lively dining atmosphere.
Throughout these changes, Tom & Chee remained true to its essence of delivering elevated comfort food that appeals to the entire family, while simultaneously offering a franchise experience that captures the attention of a new generation of aspiring business owners nationwide.
GSR recognized that the rapid growth of the franchise operation lacked the necessary support infrastructure. Upon acquiring the business, GSR found that there were initially 23 operational stores, a decrease from the peak of 35 . By 2019, the number had further reduced to twelve.
In 2020, GSR embarked on a store-opening initiative. These new establishments underwent a comprehensive rebranding, introducing “melts” as an alternative to traditional grilled cheese, providing customers with greater creative freedom.
Additionally, they implemented the use of ovens to prepare the melts, significantly reducing preparation time from 6-7 minutes to a mere 90 seconds. However, the expansion plans were unfortunately halted due to the unforeseen impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
As of April 2021, a mere seven stores remained operational, with some falling victim to pandemic-related shutdowns. Notably, among the surviving stores was the prototype location of the rebranded Tom & Chee, where the “+” symbol was replaced.
In June 2021, the company successfully opened new franchised stores in Cincinnati, Oklahoma City, and Pittsburgh. However, in January 2022, an Atlanta franchise store closed its doors. By June 2022, under GSR’s guidance, the company resumed offering franchises and formulated plans for expansion through a more streamlined business model.
As of March 2023, there are currently 12 locations, and the company is actively strategizing for rapid nationwide expansion across the United States .
The Net Worth Of Tom and Chee
After securing investments from two Sharks, the company experienced a significant boost in valuation, soaring from $2 million to an impressive $6 million. However, as of 2021, the company’s net worth has unfortunately declined to $850,000 .
Alternatives To Tom and Chee:
- The Melt Shop: Known for its mouthwatering melts, The Melt Shop offers a diverse menu featuring an array of artisanal grilled cheese sandwiches. With locations across the United States, this popular eatery elevates the grilled cheese experience with premium ingredients, creative combinations, and a variety of bread choices. From the classic Three Cheese Melt to the indulgent Truffle Melt, The Melt Shop offers a range of options to suit every taste;
- Cheesie’s Pub & Grub: For those seeking a more pub-style atmosphere, Cheesie’s Pub & Grub is the place to go. With locations in Chicago and Evanston, this establishment takes the grilled cheese experience to new heights. Their menu features a tantalizing selection of gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, including the Mac Daddy with macaroni and cheese or the Buffalo with buffalo chicken. Cheesie’s also offers a range of sides and appetizers to complement your cheesy delight;
- The Grilled Cheese Bistro: Located in Norfolk, Virginia, The Grilled Cheese Bistro is a haven for grilled cheese enthusiasts. This cozy spot offers an extensive menu featuring a variety of grilled cheese options, from classic combinations to more adventurous creations. With offerings like the Crabby Melt with lump crab meat or the Caprese Melt with fresh mozzarella and basil, The Grilled Cheese Bistro ensures a memorable and delectable experience for all grilled cheese lovers;
- Cowgirl Creamery Sidekick: If you’re in search of artisanal cheeses and delectable sandwiches, Cowgirl Creamery Sidekick is a fantastic choice. With locations in San Francisco, this cheese shop and café specializes in crafting exceptional grilled cheese sandwiches using their own handcrafted cheeses. From the tangy and creamy Mt. Tam to the robust and flavorful Red Hawk, Cowgirl Creamery Sidekick offers a unique and unforgettable grilled cheese experience;
- The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen: With locations in San Francisco and South San Francisco, The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen is a go-to destination for those craving gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. They take pride in using locally sourced ingredients and innovative flavor combinations. From the savory Jalapeño Popper Grilled Cheese to the sweet-and-savory Monte Cristo, their menu caters to diverse palates and promises a delightful culinary adventure;
How much did Tom and Chee sell for?
Tom+Chee sold 30% of the chain for $600,000. However, it is not clear if the entire chain was sold or just a portion of it. Gold Star Chili bought Tom+Chee for an undisclosed sum in 2017. It is not clear if the $600,000 sale mentioned in search result was a partial sale or if it was a separate transaction .
Who are the original owners of Tom and Chee?
The original owners of Tom and Chee are Drew Quackenbush and Corey Ward, who founded the restaurant in 2009.
Does Gold Star own Tom and Chee?
Yes, Gold Star Chilli’s parent company, GSR Brands, acquired Tom and Chee .
Is Tom & Chee still in business?
Yes, Tom & Chee is still in business.
Where is the first Tom and Chee location?
The first Tom and Chee location was set up outside an ice skating rink in Cincinnati, Ohio .
When was Tom and Chee founded?
Tom and Chee was founded in 2009.
Does Tom and Chee have vegan cheese?
Yes, Tom & Chee does offer vegan cheese as an option for their menu items. They offer vegan cheese for their sandwiches and soups, the staff would use vegan cheese instead of dairy-based cheese for a vegan grilled cheese sandwich. Vegans could get vegan cheese with their sandwiches, and vegan cheese is offered as an option for their menu items.
What cheese does Tom and Chee use?
Tom & Chee uses cheddar cheese in its menu items, including its signature grilled cheese sandwiches.
Is Tom and Chee tomato soup gluten-free?
Tom & Chee offers a gluten-free tomato soup option .
How much is a Tom and Chee franchise?
The total cost to invest in a Tom & Chee franchise ranges from $302,700 to $456,000. This includes a franchise fee of $30,000 and a liquid capital requirement of at least $125,000.
Where was the first Tom and Chee?
The first Tom and Chee location was set up outside an ice skating rink in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Useful Video: Tom and Chee Update – Shark Tank