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Sandwich stop

October 25th, 2012 · No Comments

Gourmet grilled cheese shop makes headway

By Ryan Saundercook & Richard Frankel

Stepping through the doors of Say Cheese (337 Bloor St. W.), a new gourmet grilled cheese restaurant in the heart of the Annex, feels like walking into the future.

The decor is clean and bright. The floors, tables, and chairs are spaceship white, and large, globe-shaped lamps hang from the red painted ceiling. On the walls there are lights in rectangular boxes that cycle through a variety of colours. But what hits you first as you cross the threshold is the smell of various cheeses and toppings that will leave your stomach grumbling.

“My favourite sandwich would be the pulled pork and pasta,” said Nigel Koo, co-owner of the restaurant. “It’s basically pulled pork, extra-old cheddar, BBQ sauce, and mac ‘n’ cheese all grilled into a sandwich. We marinate it overnight. We sear it the next day, slow cook it for about 18 hours. We use a pork stock and fresh tomatoes and spices. We make the BBQ sauce in-house. Everything is made in-house here.”

Koo, 29, along with business partner Christopher Blondell, 27, quietly moved into the space in February and have slowly been adding signage and spreading the restaurant brand in the area while tinkering with a variety of recipes.

“This is the first business we’ve done together,” said Koo. “He has his strengths and I have mine and together it works. He’s a very good operations guy, a great chef.”

Both partners said they support independent businesses and are picky when it comes to quality. Koo said he spends at least an hour every morning buying fresh ingredients from Kensington Market, and laughs when he says he’s been known to hoard the bacon.

“If you put really high quality food together people do notice rather than going to a chain restaurant,” he said. “I think there’s enough people that would want to try an independent restaurant that’s doing something different.”

Koo is a graduate from the University of Toronto in economics and said he was inspired to start this business from his experiences of living life on the cheap as a student.

“Basically I lived off grilled cheese for four or five years, and what better food to expand on than a grilled cheese? It’s a classic comfort food,” he said.

Koo said he wanted a modern aesthetic to the restaurant that would give it a different feel compared to others in the area, most of which feature a more traditional look.

The biggest hurdle in the new operation has been marketing, said Koo.

“We’re not looking to be the next Subway. We just want to have a nice shop and provide good value, good food, and be an independent business. Getting your name out is hard, because you’re competing with all the big names, but slowly people have been telling their friends. University professors and students seem to like us.”

Tags: Annex · General