Tom + Chee seeks to elevate tomato soup, grilled cheese

Denise Trowbridge, For The Columbus Dispatch

May 20, 2014

Tom + Chee has finally come to central Ohio. The Cincinnati-based restaurant specializing in fancy grilled-cheese sandwiches and soups opened this month in Pickerington.

"Most of us were brought up on grilled cheese and tomato soup, and these guys have taken something dear to our heart and brought it to a new level," said Ron Freeman, the Tom + Chee franchisee for central Ohio. He also operates all three Gigi's Cupcakes in Columbus.

Freeman quickly fell in love with the idea of Tom + Chee and clamored to bring it to central Ohio.

"I loved it. It's quirky and different, and no one else is really doing it," Freeman said. "Yes, there is Melt, but their prices are different, and it's also a bar. This is a place for adults and kids. It's for everyone."

Tom + Chee is known for its grilled-cheese doughnuts, which use a glazed doughnut for the bun. The restaurant also offers build-your-own grilled-cheese sandwiches with options such as vegetables and meats, and extras such as hummus or basil pesto. There's a menu of signature "fancy" grilled-cheese sandwiches and three kinds of tomato soup. Prices range from about $4 to $8.

Tom + Chee also offers choices for those with dietary restrictions, such as vegetarian and vegan options, gluten-free breads and pesto made with sunflower seeds for those with tree-nut allergies.

"Everything is made in-house. All the meats are baked and sliced in-house; all of the soups are homemade. Nothing is brought in in bags," Freeman said.

The Pickerington restaurant, at 10709 Blacklick-Eastern Rd., is a prototype for a new Tom + Chee store design. It is a bright, wide-open space with an open kitchen, vivid red and yellow walls and modern wood seating. The menu is written on a black chalkboard wall behind the registers, the main carryover from the chain's old style.

Before landing in Pickerington, Tom + Chee had plenty of time in the spotlight. The restaurant has appeared on ABC's business reality show Shark Tank and on the Travel Channel's Man v Food Nation and Amazing Eats. Its grilled-cheese doughnut has been featured on NBC's Today show and in the Huffington Post.

The restaurant began as a food tent on Cincinnati's Fountain Square in 2009, founded by partners Trew Quackenbush and Corey Ward. It now has about a dozen locations in seven states and is growing.

Freeman soon will open a second Tom + Chee, at 1840 Hilliard-Rome Rd. on the Far West Side, and is already looking for other locations around town. One area of interest is near Hamilton Road and I-270; he hopes to have a restaurant open there early next year.

But that's not all.

"I'm looking at the obvious areas like Clintonville, Polaris and Dublin," he said.

Freeman is optimistic about the chain. "Tom + Chee really hit a home run with this food concept, because it's very unique and at price point that people can afford."

Tom + Chee is open from 10:45 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 10:45 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 10:45 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday.

Off the menu

• Dewey's Pizza will open a week from today at 6540 Perimeter Dr. in Dublin. It is the third Dewey's pizza location in central Ohio.

• The Crafty Pint, a gastropub, has opened at 2234 W. Dublin-Granville Rd. in the Linworth area of the Northwest Side, in the former space of Gallo's Pit Barbecue and Hoggy's.

• Harrison's on Third is opening a new location soon, dubbed Harrison's on Kenny, at 4510 Kenny Rd.

• Las-Vegas-based bakery chain Nothing Bundt Cakes has opened its first restaurant in Ohio, at 6560 Perimeter Dr. in Dublin. The bakery, which specializes in bundt cakes, will celebrate its grand opening with a ribbon cutting on May 29.

• Little Skipper's Play Cafe is now open at 3615 Fishinger Rd. east of Hilliard. The cafe, which has play space for children and serves coffee, pastries and juice, is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday, and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday.

Dispatch restaurant columnist Denise Trowbridge can be reached at