On Restaurants

Cleveland grilled-cheese sandwich chain arrives in Short North

Owners of Melt Bar & Grilled hope their new location is first of several in Columbus

  • Jonathan Quilter | DISPATCH PHOTOS
    Bartender Shay Zinn waits for a customer during a “soft opening” of Melt Bar & Grilled in the Short North.
  • The War Pig sandwich at Melt Bar & Grilled.
  • Jonathan Quilter | DISPATCH
    Owner Matt Fish wants the Short North restaurant to catch on so he can expand in Columbus.

November 19, 2013

Melt Bar & Grilled, a Cleveland-based grilled-cheese sandwich chain with a cult following, has opened its first Columbus restaurant.

Melt opened at 840 N. High St. on Friday, hanging out a shingle with its signature logo: a piece of bread with pirate-style crossbones behind it.

Co-owner Matt Fish said he hopes this will be just the first in Columbus, joining the four in the Cleveland area.

“I am nervous, but we had to take the plunge. That’s just part of growing,” Fish said. “We want to become a regional restaurant group and open a couple more in Columbus, but we have to start with one and make that one the best we can.”

Melt’s menu features signature grilled cheese sandwiches with exotic stuffings such as potato pirogies, fried eggs, sun-dried tomato pesto, pulled pork or spicy curry chicken. The place also serves hamburgers and desserts, and has a full bar complete with a signature cocktail list, 40 craft beers on tap and another 40 in bottles.

The Melt also offers a challenge: the monster grilled cheese, a 5-pound plate of food — more than 3 pounds of it is cheese — with 13 cheeses, three slices of bread, french fries and coleslaw. Any patron who can finish without help, or a trip to the bathroom, wins a Melt T-shirt or pint glass, a $10 gift card and gets his picture posted in the online Melt Challenge Hall of Fame.

“The menu will be exactly the same as our stores in Cleveland,” Fish said.

That menu changes as the seasons change. The winter menu coincides with the Columbus location’s opening, so that will serve as local diners’ introduction to the chain’s offerings.

Melt’s grilled cheese sandwiches have garnered such a following that the chain has created a club and discount program for diners sporting a Melt tattoo. The chain’s website features a gallery of more than 400 customers and their Melt tattoos. That tattoo, by the way, nets you 25 percent off for life at any Melt restaurant.

Melt had been looking for locations in Columbus for nearly three years when this space opened up, Fish said. The N. High Street location is really what persuaded Melt’s owners to take the plunge.

“We’d been casually looking, then this space practically fell in our lap,” Fish said. “This development at High and Hubbard was just getting off the ground, and the developers contacted us. They had gone to our restaurants and were looking for an anchor tenant, a signature place that was also homegrown.”

They signed the lease six months later, which was about a year ago.

“We knew we wanted to be in Columbus and in the Short North, and this was a new building with a 240-space parking garage. We knew an opportunity like this would probably never happen again in my lifetime,” Fish said.

The only hitch: The space was a raw, unfinished shell. It even had a dirt floor. Construction lasted about three months. Now, the 5,400-square-foot space seats up to 140 and looks like other Melts — cozy and lived-in, with bright walls covered in posters and photos.

If the Short North restaurant works well, Fish plans to open more in Columbus.

“I don’t want to get too ahead of myself. We don’t have a timeline,” he said. “We are focused on making sure the first store really turns out great and impresses the neighborhood. We need to build a following, then we’ll see where our customers are coming from. If they are coming from the suburbs, we’ll look at bringing Melt to them. Our guests will determine where our next move is."

Off the menu

The Sycamore, 262 E. Sycamore St. in German Village, opened on Nov. 1. The casual restaurant is owned by Chris Crader, the man behind Harvest Pizzeria in German Village. Crader also plans to open Harvest Bar & Kitchen in Clintonville, at the former Mozart’s Bakery, 2885 N. High St., in January.

Obit file

• Commonwealth Sandwich Bar, 1437 N. High St., appears to be closed. A message left at the listed phone number said the restaurant would be closed for repairs on Oct. 2, but it appears that it has not reopened. Commonwealth co-owner Lisa Edge was set to open a new restaurant, White Rabbit, this fall, which also has yet to open. The White Rabbit website still stands, but its Facebook and Twitter feeds are gone. Edge has not replied to requests for comment.

• W.G. Grinders, 250 E. Broad St., has closed. It is no longer listed on the company website, and the listed number has been disconnected.

Dispatch restaurant columnist Denise Trowbridge can be reached at onrestaurants@dispatch.com.