Tom and Chee

tom and chee shark tank grilled cheese shop episode 424Tom and Chee founders Trew Quackenbush and Corey Ward pitch their Cincinnati area gourmet grilled cheese shops to the Sharks in episode 424. Quackenbush is a self-taught cook who “cooked around” all over the USA learning his craft before settling in Cincinnati. Ward is the son of ice cream shop owners who grew up behind the grill and wanted a business of his own. The two “cheftrepreneurs” decided to create a casual dining concept around the old lunch standard of tomato soup and grilled cheese. They currently have 5 locations that feature their creations, the most outrageous being a grilled cheese donut. They’ll be looking to the Sharks to fund expansion of their burgeoning grilled cheese empire.

Tom and Chee Shark Tank Recap

Trew and Corey came into the Shark Tank seeking $600k for a 10% share of Tom and Chee. They tell their story and offer their grilled cheese donut to the Sharks who gobble them up. They reveal they did $1.5 million in sales out of their corporate store in one year and their first franchisee did over $100K in one month. The Sharks like those numbers.

Barbara immediately offers $300K for 15% of the business provided another Shark puts up the other $300K. Daymond doesn’t want to be in the grilled cheese business, so he’s out. Kevin and Robert each agree to throw in $100K with Barbara if Mark does the other $100K. Mark’s interested, but he agrees to partner with Barbara at $300K each, leaving Robert and Kevin out.

Mark says he also wants franchise rights to Texas and agrees to leave Dallas out of the deal since Trew and Cory already have an interested franchisee there. Barbara wants the franchise rights to New York. Trew and Cory take the deal with Mark and Barbara.

Tom and Chee Shark Tank Update

Since doing the deal with Mark and Barbara, Tom and Chee is doing big business. Since their original air date, they’ve received over 9,000 requests for franchises and they’re opening new stores all over the country. Tom and Chee has an update segment airing on January 17 in episode 514.

In the summer of 2014, Tom and Chee laid off 6 employees at their corporate headquarters in Cincinnati. The reason for layoffs of members of their marketing, catering and training teams was to position the company for future growth. A few days after the layoffs, the company announced it will open 13 new franchises in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Tennessee, Missouri, Kansas, North Carolina, Louisiana, Georgia and Nebraska. The plan for 2015 includes 30 new stores. The company claims to have 170 stores under contract.

Tom and Chee has a second update segment in episode 616 in season six, where they’ll likely announce their new locations to Shark Tank Nation. In this update, they reveal they’ve grossed over $14 million since appearing on Shark Tank. They explain Barbara has been instrumental in finding real estate. They have 19 locations now, but they’re going world-wide. Tom and Chee will surely have another update segment!

Yet another update occurs in episode 815! In this update, they are expanding again. Unfortunately, their expansion went too fast and the fledgling franchise outfit didn’t have the proper supports in place. They also had a lot of franchisees that didn’t have food service experience. Shortly after this update, the company’s assets were seized by their bank.

In October, 2017, the business assets were acquired from the bank by GSR Brands, the parent company of Cincinnati’s Gold Star Chili for an undisclosed amount. Trew Quackenbush and Corey Ward were still involved with the company  when it was acquired: Trew worked on the menus and Corey on marketing. Trew moved on to teach culinary arts at a Cincinnati area high school and also works as an independent chef. Corey remains with the company.

GSR determined the franchise operation grew too quickly without the infrastructure to support it. When GSR acquired the business, there were 23 stores in operation (down from a high of 35). As of 2019, there were a dozen still open.

In 2020, GSR began the process of opening more stores. New stores feature a rebranding where, instead of grilled cheese, they are offering “melts” to allow for more creative options. They also plan to use ovens to make the melts, cutting prep time from 6-7 minutes down to 90 seconds.  Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic put the expansion plans on hold.

As of April, 2021, only seven stores remained open, some falling victim to Covid-19 related shutdowns. One of those stores is the new prototype store of the re-branded Tom & Chee (the “+” was replaced). New stores will have the aforementioned “Melts” on the signage, the new ovens, reduced menu size, a more muted color scheme and smaller square footage. Hopefully, GSR can save this brand.

Posts about Tom and Chee on Shark Tank Blog

Gourmet Grilled Cheese Shops

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Comments

  1. JaneAnn Tharp says

    We stopped in at the Tom and Chee in Omaha NE. Our first time there we really liked to grilled chee sandwishes but my husband ordered the Pesto-Turkey and I myself ordered the Flying Pig. The order was to go. We drove 35 miles to our home in Fremont NE. As we are getting ready to eat. We cut both sandwiches in half so we both could get a taste of each. Than we decide if we go back. As I am taking a bite of the Pesto this aweful blob of not so great taste was in my mouth. Of course I got rid of it really fast. The Flying Pig was Awesome and there for that one is why will be going back. But you really need to inform your crew at the Tom and Chee in Omaha NE. that they really need to SPREAD out the meat and Pesto when put on the bread. I also will be saying something to a manger there. Spreading the meat out on all of the sandwiches would only give that customer meat in every bite. Oh and the loaded potatoe soup was also awesome!!! Thank you for your time.

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