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The Melt: High-tech pedigree for comfort cuisine

Grilled-cheese-and-soup restaurant concept serves homey food with help of new technologies

Grilled-cheese-and-soup specialist The Melt is playing off its founder’s tech background with cutting-edge features in the front- and back-of-the-house.

Jonathan Kaplan, who developed the Flip video camera, opened the inaugural location of his new concept in San Francisco under his company, Fish Six Restaurant Corp.

Kaplan said The Melt is “blending” old favorites with new technologies to offer appealing combinations “in an enjoyable quick-service environment.”

The Melt’s customers soon will have the option to order ahead and pay using a mobile application on their smartphones that issues them a unique Quick Response, or QR, barcode, Fish Six officials said. And when customers arrive at the restaurant, they will be able to skip the service line by using a provided scanner to input the QR code into the production system for faster assembly and delivery.

Once additional locations open, customers will be able to pre-order and pay and generate a QR code on their smartphones, and then redeem their order at any Melt outlet.

Two other San Francisco locations, as well as a third in nearby Palo Alto, Calif., are now in development and scheduled to open by the end of the year as part of an aggressive growth strategy, Fish Six officials said. They were not available at press time to clarify if that growth will come through franchising or company-store development, or a combination of the two.

Venture capital firm Sequoia Capital is one of the concept’s backers.

Michael Moritz of Sequoia Capital explains why the company decided to invest in The Melt; story continues on page 2

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The Melt is part of a growing group of fast-casual grilled-cheese specialty concepts banking on the sandwich’s comfort-food status in difficult economic times. Operators also find that it is appealing from an operational standpoint because of its simple preparation.

Other players in the niche include Michael Inwald’s 2-year-old, three-unit Cheeseboy concept in Boston, which is now soliciting franchisees, and Grilled Cheese Inc.’s, The Grilled Cheese Truck — a popular food truck in Los Angeles. Ryan Afromsky, whose brick-and-mortar Meltdown Etc. in Culver City, Calif., closed in late 2009 short of a two-year run, is now in the fundraising stage in a bid to revise the concept as a mobile eatery.

Inside The Melt’s prep area, sandwiches are toasted to a consistent crispness on the outside and melted texture inside with custom-made presses that company representatives said are powered by radiant infrared heat. Sandwiches are finished with a proprietary seasoning and “soups are aerated prior to service for combinations of flavors and textures that until now have been reserved for traditional fine dining experiences,” they said.

Fine-dining chef-restaurateur Michael Mina serves on Kaplan’s Fish Six Restaurant Corp. board of directors, the company said.

Soups are priced from $3.95 for a cup to $5.95 for a bowl. Sandwiches cost $5.95, and cup-of-soup-and-sandwich combos are $8.95.

Among The Melt’s initial offerings:

The Classic: Cheddar cheese on potato bread and two-tomato basil soup.

The Wild Thing: Gruyère cheese on white wheat bread and wild mushroom soup.

The Italian Job: Fontina and provolone cheeses on garlic bread and sausage and pepper soup.

The Amsterdam: Smoked Gouda cheese on eight-grain bread and spicy black bean soup.

The Mission: Jalapeño Jack cheese on sourdough bread and sweet corn tortilla soup.

Before venturing into the restaurant business, Kaplan was the founder of Pure Digital, the company that helped bring about the current pocketable video camera and video-sharing craze through its Flip Video product.

When Pure Digital was purchased by business technology specialist Cisco Systems in 2009, Kaplan joined Cisco as head of a new consumer products division, but left the company earlier this year in advance of Cisco announcing it was discontinuing Flip Video as part of a change in its strategy.

Contact Alan J. Liddle at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @AJ_NRN

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