by Dan Rafter
You might have seen the founders of Tom+Chee, Trew Quackenbush and Corey Ward, on season 4 of ABC’s popular TV show Shark Tank. Back then, the entrepreneurs were seeking dollars from the show’s panel of investors to help grow their Cincinnati-based gourmet grilled-cheese and tomato-soup restaurant Tom+Chee.
Yes, the restaurant chain really does serve grilled-cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. But these are fancy sandwiches. The chain even sells a grilled-cheese doughnut that has undoubtedly raised the cholesterol of more than a few Cincinnati residents.
Quackenbush and Ward got the funding they sought. And today, the Cincinnati-based chain is growing quickly. And when a new Tom+Chee opens in a Midwest market? It makes the same sort of headlines that local newspapers give to new Chick-fil-A locations.
Tom+Chee opened its first location in 2009. That initial restaurant was located in a tent next to the ice-skating rink on Cincinnati’s Fountain Square. The chain opened its first brick-and-mortar location in 2010, also in Cincinnati. Six months later, Tom+Chee opened its second location in Newport, Kentucky.
By the time 2014 came to an end, Tom+Chee boasted 19 locations. The company plans to open 30 new stores in 2015, which ranks as some pretty explosive growth.
Not surprisingly, the chain has several locations in the Midwest, where eaters love their comfort food. Kentucky alone is home to five, while Michigan, Ohio, Nebraska, Indiana, Missouri, Tennessee and Wisconsin all boast at least one location.
Will Tom+Chee become the next Chick-fil-A? It’s too early to say. But so far, the results are impressive. The company’s founders say that they have grossed more than $14 million since landing a deal with Shark Tank regulars Mark Cuban and Barbara Corcoran in 2013.