Joseph Bogan - Grilled Cheeserie Interview

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Musician, self-described foodie, and all-around nice guy, Joseph Bogan is the co-founder of The Grilled Cheeserie – an award-winning Nashville food truck & melt shop. He and his wife, Crystal De Luna-Bogan (co-founder, head chef) have taken an every-day staple, a grilled cheese, and elevated it into a gourmet smash hit – all while sourcing from local farms and using eco-conscious business practices. Joseph (who has been interviewed by people who actually know what they’re doing) was kind enough to answer my questions for our newsletter:

Title: Co-founder, The Grilled Cheeserie

How long have you been with Fresh? Early 2016

Crystal has an extensive, dare I say crazy fancy culinary background (Napa Rose, Four Seasons Beverly Hills, Clementine). So, why grilled cheeses (a food not generally thought of as gourmet) and why Nashville?

Why Nashville is actually a good 1st question - I grew up here. I was born in L.A., but grew up here. I went to high school here, and right after high school I went back to L.A., I still have family out there. Crystal and I met in L.A., she was born and raised in Covina (CA), which is an hour east of L.A. In 2008 or 9, we started talking about leaving L.A. - I love and miss a lot of things about it, but it’s a grind after a while. We were both working to live, so it was a good opportunity for us to think of a new city – a new path for us. We were talking about starting something together in the culinary world, and that’s a pretty daunting task in L.A. We had visited Nashville a few times, and at the time it had started to take on a new persona – it was different than when I grew up here. There was a lot more culture: the music scene, the food scene was really coming on, and those are two of my passions: foodie, and loving music and the arts – that was huge for me, and Crystal was totally down. She loved it - she comes from a very close-knit family, and has more of a small city mentality.

So, the move to Nashville was actually really easy for us – “Let’s just do it.”

So we moved here in 2009. Crystal immediately started working at a restaurant called Cha Cha, doing Spanish tapas. She met Arnold Myint on one of our visits, he’s been on top chef, and owns restaurants in town. They became tight, and she had a job lined up before we even moved. At the time, I was composing music for T.V. commercials on a freelance basis. It was 2010 when we really started talking about bringing something into the culinary world, and we asked ourselves, “What do we miss about L.A.?” The 1st idea was a late-night diner, we looked at a couple of spots, but we weren’t totally convinced that it would take off – it’s a big investment, and you want to be sure. The next idea was food trucks, we loved the food trucks in L.A. - my cousin runs a food truck out there, Crystal’s uncle has one of the biggest food truck commissaries in Long Beach. Once we had the food truck idea we were like, absolutely - they weren’t here yet, we knew they were coming: they were in Portland, Austin, and Nashville was just a little bit behind, and we wanted to be the trail blazers. The next thing to decide: what type of food.  Considering Crystal’s skilled, fine-dining background, we thought we would do something really elevated – but again, we weren’t convinced. Then we started thinking about comfort food – where are we? The south. There are a lot of really great dairy farms & creameries around here, so we thought about the opposite side – what’s the simplest thing people grew up on? As soon as we thought of grilled cheese, it was clear, no question – and they’re a blank canvas. I mean, you can do anything with bread and cheese. The whole idea is to take something simple, and elevate it - really blow peoples’ minds. We wanted to take a home staple, and turn it into something you couldn’t make at home. Then we started working on menu items, testing recipes, and building the brand – I hopped on Facebook, Twitter, and before we even opened we had a couple thousand followers. Once we decided on grilled cheese that was it, we were off and running in 3-4 months.

You make award winning grilled cheeses, and you were featured on Diners, Drive-ins & Dives, but what is your favorite meal to cook at home?

Oh wow, I don’t think we’ve cooked at home in 4 years. We eat out a lot, we really do. I never really did cook, when you’re married to a chef, it’s like, “What am I doing in (the kitchen)?” I’m Crystal’s prep cook. I grew up in a family of musicians, so our idea of family dinner was ordering a pizza. My parents didn’t cook. I didn’t really start appreciating food until my 20’s, when I started learning about the importance of knowing just where your food is coming from, and moving away from mass food productions. That’s really one of our biggest motivations for growth right now- wherever we go, we want to be local, and if we can’t be local, we at least want to know that our food is being raised responsibly, and try to educate other restaurateurs. There is no excuse not to, you can still make money in this industry while paying a little more for your food. It’s our responsibility as owners & restaurateurs to raise the demand for locally sourced food, and once we raise the demand, the price will come down.

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Your website mentions an ideal zero waste status, what steps are you taking to reach that status, and how close are you to obtaining said status?

So, we started that process – it’s a difficult thing, and we’re a small business, and we’re thrown a lot of challenges. One of the biggest challenges in the restaurant industry, in general, is being able to sustain – it’s one of the riskiest business to start. We were fortunate enough to be successful – to have long lines and generate income, but you always have to be able to control your costs. We started making steps in the trucks, we asked ourselves, “What can we do to make our brand more aligned with our core beliefs?” and we started with our packaging. We eliminated plastic water bottles, which was one of the first big steps that we took.

We now use 100% compostable packaging,

and there’s a big premium involved with that, most people don’t realize that. Now that we’re in a store, the idea of growth is exciting to me, but the idea of growing with the smallest possible footprint is more exciting. We’ve partnered with Compost Nashville, they pick up 2-3 times a week, and turn our waste into mulch. We are really excited about that, we’re starting that process next week, and we’re pumped – at the end of the day, we want to build something we’re proud of.

You’re the co-owner of a famous food truck, and now a brick and mortar – how do you stay organized and on top of everything?

*Laughs* That’s a good question. It’s team. It’s all about your team. And it actually starts with your systems. Before we opened truck number two, Crystal and I shut down truck one for almost three weeks. We knew, if we were going to grow this thing, it has to go to paper and systems. So, we sat down, forced ourselves to do it, and wrote out every standard operating procedure we could think of for every station. Once you have your systems in place, it’s actually pretty straight forward. The next step is staff – to find and hire those key team members who have more drive, and more potential, and make sure you keep and incentivize them to reach their full potential.

We’re very proud of what we’re doing,

so Crystal and I are still very involved, but the goal is not to work for your company, but work on it, so we’re working towards removing ourselves from the day to day.

When you aren’t managing both, what is your favorite activity to do in your spare time?

Make music. I was in a band in my early 20’s, doing some engineering at a studio, and then started making money, writing for T.V. commercials, and that sort of thing. It’s been a journey, I was in a band in the mid-2000’s, it was pretty, guitar and synth driven, indie rock. I’ve always listened to classic song-writing- Brian Wilson is one of my favorites, Leonard Cohen, Todd Rundgren - so I have a classic song-writing affinity, but I like to mix it with contemporary sounds. I’ve been working on project, in my spare time, it’s an electro-pop due, with a friend from L.A., and she’s come a few times to my home studio to record. It’s been fun.

It’s a little late (our bad!), but it’s Grilled Cheese Month! What do you guys do to celebrate?

It’s our month! We’ve always turned it into a really fun thing. I mean, look at a grilled cheese, it’s a fun, childish, nostalgic, food. We can’t take ourselves too seriously, but every April,

we put a lot of thought into what we’re going to do for Grilled Cheese Month.

Usually, on actual Grilled Cheese Day (April 12th), we like to do something for our customers. One of my favorite things we’ve done was work with four awesome local chefs: Josh Habiger, Deb Paquette, Philip Krajeck, & Sean Brock, and had each chef prepare their own ultimate grilled cheese. Each week, we served one of the chef’s custom-made grilled cheese out of the truck. We’re fans of these guys. Deb has been around forever, and she’s a Nashville icon. Sean is a celebrity chef, we love what he’s done, and his entire outlook on food – he’s one of the biggest advocates of knowing where your food comes from. We love Josh, we’re good friends with him, and what he’s done in Nashville is super impressive. And just a huge fan of Rolf and Daughters’ – one of my favorite restaurants, so Philip was a no-brainer. We were pumped when they all agreed to do it. This year, we did our take on cheese plate that highlights local farms (linked below), and handed out over 700 free sandwiches on grilled cheese day. It’s fun, and the customers love it, and that’s what’s really important.

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unlistedBobby Brock