ORLANDO, Fla. – Grilled Cheezus is bringing its brand of toasted, melty sandwiches to Orlando’s trendy Mills 50 District after opening its first stand-alone location Monday.
The new restaurant is located at 912 N. Mills Ave., which used to house Bites & Bubbles before it moved a couple of blocks north in 2021. Grilled Cheezus shares the building with Phat Ash Bakes, which sells specialty cookies out the back of the restaurant.
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“Israel (Erazo) and Ashley (D’Acunto) are both amazing people,” KJ Nard, one of the owners of Grilled Cheezus, said about his partnership with the couple behind Phat Ash Bakes. “We put them through coincidence. I actually had windows installed in my house and the guy who installed my windows, saw my grilled cheese menu said ‘Wow, this is really cool. You know, I’d love to introduce you to my friends who own this cookie company.’ And so I met Israel and Ashley and instantly just the connection between us was great.”
The partnership allows Grilled Cheezus to sell some Phat Ash Bakes cookies, though many of the specialty flavors are still only available through Phat Ash directly.
Phat Ash has been open for a few months now, but Grilled Cheezus just opened up shop.
“(Opening) took just over a year,” Nard said. “There was obviously some supply issues, some other issues with how we were restructuring the building. But the city of Orlando and especially the Mills 50 District and the people in that area were super helpful, getting us any assistance that we needed.”
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Although this is Grilled Cheezus’ first stand-alone restaurant, it is the fourth location overall. The restaurant first opened in October 2019 inside of Orange County Brewery in downtown Orlando.
About six months in, the pandemic hit. That forced Grilled Cheezus to shut down for a while.
“Because we used to go platforms, we were able to open back up and we were able to use our to-go platforms with our partners DoorDash, Uber Eats and Grubhub to reopen and that’s kind of when you know it started really taking off, ” Nard said.
Shortly after that reopening, Grilled Cheezus was able to open up in the kitchens of Dapper Duck Bar and Downtown PourHouse.
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“Both Dapper Duck and PourHouse, they had awesome menus but once the pandemic hit, running those kitchens was a little bit tougher,” Nard said. “Because of how we’re able to operate, we’re able to do it, much more effectively with regards to less staffing, less items less kitchen equipment. So we were able to take over both those kitchens and it was a mutual benefit.”
Nard said that ability to operate with less than a typical restaurant is part of what has allowed Grilled Cheezus to expand relatively rapidly, even amid the pandemic.
“We can operate without a hood system. We can operate without fryers. We can operate electrically versus trying to do everything that major restaurants have had problems with,” he said.
While the business has been able to expand and grow to several locations, Nard said he and his partners are now focused on the Mills 50 District.
“It’s just such a beautiful district, such a beautiful area,” he said. “So we’re looking to build that restaurant, and then the sky’s the limits for what’s next. We’ve had a couple offers out there for some things that we may explore and kind of see what the future holds, but, you know, thank God, the future looks bright for us.”
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