photo by Melissa Chipman

It’s been almost a year since the Cincinnati-based Tom + Chee opened a Bardstown Road location, the first  of their stores outside of Queen City.

I was lucky to attend the soft opening of the grilled cheese and tomato soup fast-ish food joint before my Insider Louisville days and was delighted by both the food and the “story” of the chain.

Tom + Chee started as a vendor in a tent by the Fountain Square skating rink in Cincy in 2008.  From my blog post back in May 2012:

I spent a lot of time talking with James [Czar], their PR person, and what I loved most was how much he talked about ‘passion’… way more than he talked about food.  He said that the Cincinnati folks vetted the Louisville franchisees, Natalie and Rich Tinsley, as passionately as [the Tinsleys] vetted Tom + Chee. The word “love” came up again and again with James.

Last May, when the store opened, I was concerned it wouldn’t last long, despite the excellent food. The week Tom + Chee opened was an unseasonably hot (90+ degree) week, and who craves this kind of cold weather comfort food during sticky Louisville summers? But the store took off, was always packed, and was quickly followed by a second Louisville location just off of the U of L campus.

Shows what I know.

IL’s Steve Coomes ran a preview piece on the store. Co-owner Corey Ward said of their Newport-on-the-Levee restaurant:

“… It’s twice the size of our Cincinnati operation, and on weekends we go on an hour wait.”

For grilled cheese.

“Ours is really different. We see it as a cool platform to do a lot of other stuff with,” Ward began. “We use a whole variety of different breads, we add ingredients like potato chips. We roast our own turkey, make our own pesto, we use pepperoni and roast beef. It’s a lot of things.” (Indeed it is. Have a look at the menu.)

Now the Cincinnati founders of the chain,Ward and Trew Quackenbush, will appear on the ABC reality show “Shark Tank” where entrepreneurs pitch their ideas to successful business leaders, and vie for investment money. “Shark Tank” is the inspiration for Louisville’s “Venture Sharks” program, currently in progress.

According to the news release from Atomic Media Labs:

Ward and Quackenbush will pitch their brand of grilled cheese to the “Sharks” — including Mark Cuban (media and sports, owner of the Dallas Mavericks), Barbarba Corcoran (real estate), Daymond John (fashion), Kevin O’Leary (educational software), and Robert Herjavec (technology) — in hopes of securing an investment and taking Tom+Chee global.

Ward and Quackenbush applied to be on “Shark Tank” last summer.  “After the success of the past few years, we felt that we were at a point where we were ready to grow even more and take our idea to investors,” said Ward.”  And we loved the idea of pitching Tom+Chee in front of a national audience.”This historic next step was announced by the Tom+Chee founders last Friday morning at a press conference held in front of their Court Street shop in Cincinnati, coincidentally on ‘National Grilled Cheese Day!’

Watch the press conference here:

The “Shark Tank” episode will air on May 17 at 9 p.m.