Squamish's newest little sandwich shop, Grilled Fromage, just screams cheese - not that that's a bad thing.
The walls are painted a vibrant cheddar-orange and are adorned with album cover art from Lionel Ritchie, Gino Vanelli, Tom Jones and Rod Stewart. The cash register has been transformed into a giant block of Swiss. Action figures line the shelves behind the counter, and tucked away at the back of the restaurant, there's a TV hooked up to a functioning Atari. It doesn't get much cheesier than that!
Of course, aside from the super fun, retro decor, there's also the super cheesy menu; a collection of 54 unique combinations of meat, veggies, bread and, of course, cheese, imagined by owner and operator Colin Bush.
Bush moved to Squamish from Alberta almost a year ago after leading a successful career as VP of an online e-wallet company, with 1,200 employees working under his supervision. But he decided it was finally time to make his longtime business idea a reality: he would open a restaurant that serves just grilled cheese sandwiches.
"There's a lot of cheesiness, definitely, in my past," Bush said with a grin. He said he's been toying with the idea for almost 15 years.
In all that time, for some reason, the ultimate comfort food hadn't caught on as a fad, ignored for its fancier cousins, the sub and wrap.
Bush originally looked at opening a location on Commercial Drive in Vancouver, or even in Whistler, but he just couldn't find the right location at the right price. But downtown Squamish offered up foot traffic and the potential for growth coupled with lower rents, a great small-town vibe and lots of outdoor activities for Bush and his family to partake in during downtime.
The menu, which takes up an entire wall in the restaurant, features some creative (and delicious) items that range in price: the "Missionary" is the classic butter and Kraft singles on regular white bread, just like yo' momma made, for $4.90, while the "High Roller" features smoked Gruyere and lobster on sourdough bread served with melted garlic butter for $15.90. There are even some *gasp* non-cheese option like the "Elvis" - a far less repulsive version of the King's original favourite peanut butter, banana and bacon. (Thankfully, Bush took some creative license with this one.) He's even hammering out a special Games-themed sandwich: the "Ring of Fire," which features chipotle jam and peanut butter from Mexico. Hmm, I think I'll stick to the regular menu.
This time around, I opted to test drive the "Advocat," a sandwich dreamed up by Bush's lawyer, which features Monterey Jack cheese, avocado and spicy salsa lightly layered together between slices of fresh sourdough for $8.90.
Though he had absolutely no food service or kitchen experience before opening Grilled Fromage, Bush has had over two months to learn how to properly grill a sandwich.
"I'd never cooked on a grill before," he admitted, laughing. "...I kind of feel bad for the first people that came in and tried us out, because I didn't even know if the cheese was getting melted back then."
The trial and error has paid off. My sandwich is perfectly toasted - not squished, not greasy, still light and not loaded down with too many toppings. And that's the beauty of Bush's sandwiches - he hasn't gone overboard with the number of flavours he includes in each sandwich. The Advocat's avocado and Monterey Jack cheese provide a nice creamy balance to the spiciness of the salsa. And served with sides of Cheesies and a few forkfuls of salad, the meal is filling and delicious. If you're still hungry, you can round it out with one of their daily soups, a coffee, ants on a log, or a piece of Magnum Pie. (Get it? Magnum P.I.?)
The whole strictly grilled cheese concept has also - surprise, surprise - gone over very well with the discerning kiddie crowd, who seem to favour the "Missionary" and "Fromage a Trois," which features cheddar, mozza and swiss. Now, Bush is reconsidering the names of the kid's sandwiches.
"It's like, 'hi, your child's Missionary is ready,' so that's kind of weird," he laughed.
But Bush's plans aren't limited to filling Squamish residents' bellies - he hopes that Grilled Fromage will turn into a local gathering place. Though he's only open for lunch right now, he's in the process of applying for his liquor license and provided everything goes smoothly, hopes to open a few nights a week for community events. On Thursday, he's thinking along the lines of fondue nights; on Friday, he'll host '80s karaoke; on Saturday, maybe a lounge singer or an open mic night; and on Sunday, they'll host weekly off-the-wall tournament events like thumb wars.
Oh and then there are the plans for world domination. Well, that may be an overstatement, but Squamish's Grilled Fromage may be the first of many.