Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

There’s Some Cheese in My Tech: Jonathan Kaplan’s The Melt Opens Its Doors

Last week, I found myself at the secret preview opening of a grilled cheese restaurant.

That would be Flip creator Jonathan Kaplan’s The Melt line of grilled cheese restaurants, which was first announced at this year’s ninth D: All Things Digital conference.

It is Kaplan’s next act, after Cisco shut down the Flip handheld videocamera line in April.

Kaplan had actually left Cisco in February, and soon was planning this orthogonal and highly unusual move.

I stopped by The Melt’s first location at 115 New Montgomery in San Francisco on Friday, just after the restaurant had invited its Twitter followers and Facebook fans in for a free trial lunch. Needless to say, the atmosphere was festive.

The sandwich menu has changed since D9. No more The Walt and The Kara, although the “experienced gruyere” found in The Walt has now been relabeled “aged gruyere” and is part of The Wild Thing, which comes on white wheat with creamy wild mushroom soup.

(I sampled “The Mission,” which is jalapeno jack on sourdough, accompanied by sweet corn tortilla soup. I have no professional qualifications or training to assure you of this, but it was yummy.)

Both of the combos I described cost $8.95 each.

The Melt aims to be the cheesier version of Chipotle, the fast, casual and highly successful Mexican restaurant chain, and is backed by Sequoia Capital.

Kaplan said he’s well aware that many in the technology industry are rolling their eyes. But he said, “The reality is, tech gets you food and out the door.”

Thus, customers can create an order for their grilled cheese from their computers or mobile phones and receive a QR code that they then bring to a Melt location and scan at the counter. Only when the sandwich is ready does the customer’s credit card get charged.

Each sandwich takes two minutes to cook, and has a shelf life of about half an hour, Kaplan said, so time is of the essence, and the QR code system helps make everything happen fast.

As for the connection between sandwiches and personal videocameras?

“Flip was also a crazy idea,” said Kaplan. “It was equally nutty to compete with Sony.”

With a restaurant, it’s much easier to get feedback and make quick changes than with a gadget that has to be manufactured and distributed, he noted.

Kaplan said he’s aiming for 500 company-owned restaurants with 20,000 employees in five years.

Two other ways The Melt sets itself apart: Everything served is compostable or recyclable, so you won’t find a trashcan in the store. And the combos contain only about 615 calories, Kaplan said.

Here’s the video of Kaplan at D9:

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I’d like to say I like change. I don’t. I came out of IBM and Wang Laboratories. Each company was on top of the world and then fell from grace. Once you’ve experienced that, and the pain that goes with it, the one thing you’re not going to do is not change.

— John Chambers, to Businessweek’s Diane Brady