"We wish you many years of continued success," Chase Vice President Ashley Grech told Heidi Gibson and Nate Pollack as she handed them the check for a quarter of a million dollars. They own the American Grilled Cheese Kitchen. "We had no expectation of winning, at all," Gibson said.
The odds were tough. 70,000 small businesses registered for the grants, more than 3 million consumers voted for them, and a panel of judges helped select the top ones. The grant money comes from Chase. "Thes businesses that won the grants, they all have that kind of social and economic impact in their community," Chase Vice President Ashley Grech said.
She was talking about what she calls the "pulse of the economy." American Grilled Cheese gets its bread from a nearby bakery. The cheese is from Marin. They utilize local resources. The place has been a hit since it opened 2.5 years ago. In a foodie town, it was never a secret. "Since we were the first grilled cheese sandwich restaurant in San Francisco, people just picked it up and went crazy. And, South Park is such a lunch destination," said co-owner Heidi Gibson.
"Wow grilled cheese place. That's incredible. It's like, doing classic American thing, you know," customer Kenan Malik said. "I just think they have a unique little style," Jaymie Malik added. That goes to the art work covering doors to storage rooms and the ever-changing cheese puns submitted by customers. Gibson and Pollack were working in high-tech, but she had won grilled cheese competitions. They decided it was time for change. "In high-tech, you have an idea and maybe a few months later you get to see the idea working, and it may or may not work. There's this life cycle. Whereas, I have an idea, the next day it's on the menu," Heidi said.
The restaurant embodies their creativity and potential which impressed the judges. "Will this money have impact? Not just to the community, but businesses themselves. How are they planning to use it? Is that a wise decision for them. Hopefully, it's to grow," Grech said.
They're going to use the grant in an obvious way for a small business: expansion. They are going to add a second location, proving cheese is "the grill of their dreams."