Interview with Spencer Rubin

Founder of Melt Shop in NYC

At just 25 years old, Spencer Rubin first brought elevated grilled cheese to the Midtown masses with the opening of Melt Shop and quickly gained a large and loyal following with artisanal sandwiches such as “The Dirty” (pepperjack, muenster, pickled jalapenos, and potato chips as a crunchy filling), “The Award Winner” (cheddar, blue cheese, maple bacon and cranberry jam) and “Buttermilk Fried Chicken” (pepperjack cheese, crispy chicken tenders, and creamy red cabbage slaw), in addition to a handful of creative sides like tater tots with addictive Melt Sauce, refreshing arugula salad, and, of course, warming tomato soup. Additionally, Melt Shop won first place at “The Big Cheesy”–a citywide grilled cheese competition–two years in a row (2012, 2013).

This past October, Spencer expanded the brand in opening a second, larger location in Manhattan’s NoMad neighborhood. Creating relationships with likeminded food world entrepreneurs and giving them a space to sell their wares, he’s partnered with friends at Montauk Brewing Co. to exclusively pour their seasonal beers, he sources Melt Shop’s bread from New York City artisan bakery, Orwasher’s, and offers dessert in the form of ice cream sandwiches from Melt Bakery. Spencer is currently in the process of opening an even larger location in Midtown this Fall, and continues to seek out young, equally ambitious food world entrepreneurs to forge a new generation of food artisans and businesses.

Tell us a little about yourself, what’s your background in foodservice and where did you study?

My obsession with food started at a young age. I started cooking with my family early on… and the rest was kind of history! At the age of 8, I had already decided I wanted to be in the restaurant business and I got the entrepreneurial itch around the same time. I combined my two passions and decided (by the time I was 10) that I wanted to be a restaurateur. In 2004, I attended The Hotel School at Cornell University. My experience has been all over the map from working in the kitchens of small restaurants, to full service dining, to restaurant development and construction. I tailored my experiences to prepare myself to open my own place… and was fortunate enough to get the opportunity.

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How many locations do you have and are you looking to expand throughout NYC or maybe into NJ and CT?

When coming up with the idea for Melt Shop, we decided we wanted to take the most unforgettable classic sandwich—the grilled cheese—and elevate it. We are a scratch kitchen making almost everything by hand, in-house. We take our homemade, comfort food-inspired ingredients, and combine them with high quality cheeses, meats, and handmade artisan breads, to make the best grilled cheese sandwiches you can find.
We have two locations open now and have a third on the way. We are looking to expand aggressively in the tri-state area over the next couple of years.

What where you looking for in terms of real estate space for the shops?

1000-1500 sq. ft. We are looking for good real estate opportunities that fit with our brand’s image.

Sometimes you just can’t go wrong with American classics like Grilled Cheese, especially with an artisanal approach that is under $10 bucks. What was the strategy behind pricing?

The pricing is the hardest part. We try our best to keep prices as low as possible, but our products take a lot of work to make and good bread and good cheese is not cheap! The strategy was to create a variety of options at different price points and complexity levels to try and make our products accessible to all.

Who’s supplying your cheeses and other specialty items?

We use cheeses from Roth Kase, Emmi, Widmers Cheese Cellars, Vermont Butter and Creamery, and are working on sourcing some other great cheeses to add to our selection (I have a trip planned to visit 20 different cheese producers in Wisconsin at the end of the month). We use La Colombe Coffee, Beer from Montauk Brewing Company, Melt Bakery Ice Cream Sandwiches, Pat La Frieda Meats, with more cool vendors to come.

What type of equipment can be found in the kitchen at a Melt Shop? Did you work with any local NY dealers?

Normal kitchen equipment, gas ranges, convection oven, flat top griddles, etc…My favorite tool is our fancy butter roller for making our bread golden brown.

Is this your first foodservice establishment? What have been some of the ups and downs that you’ve come across?

This is definitely my first venture…this industry is a total roller coaster and definitely puts every individual to the test. I think in our two years in the business, I have seen almost everything…and I am sure if you speak to some vets in the business, they’d say I have seen almost nothing. The food and people will always keep me going, the good days are just too damn good. I am always at my happiest when I see a satisfied customer…there’s no better feeling.

Your successes led you to receive a Forbes “30 Under 30” accolade in the Food and Wine category! Did that open up new doors for you?

This was a great accomplishment for me and Melt Shop. I think it helped establish our brand as a true player in the food world and no longer a mom and pop shop. There were some heavy hitters out there and I am just thrilled we got the recognition for it.

Do you offer patrons any type of beer or wine? If so, do you use local breweries?

We use Montauk Brewing Company and we sell $2 PBR’s at our Chelsea location all day, every day.

Where do you see the Melt Shop 5 years from now? Any plans to offer franchises?

No plans on franchising yet. In the next five years, I want 50 stores that sell the highest quality products. We want to create a new fast casual brand based on homemade, high quality product.

What advice would you offer other young foodservice professionals trying to create their own brand in this challenging industry?

Make sure you partner with the right people. These people should buy into the same standards and vision that you have. Take care of your employees. They are the most important part of your business. Make sure food quality is always at the forefront of your operation.