April may have been National Grilled Cheese Month, but for Melt Bar and Grilled owner Matt Fish, April 2 was the day he decided to close his flagship location in Lakewood for renovations.SaveSaveSaveSave
“Every day is National Grilled Cheese Day for us,” he quips.
Since opening Melt’s first location in Lakewood 12 years ago, Fish has turned the grilled cheese business into a thriving franchise with 12 Ohio locations—including five restaurants in the Cleveland area and satellite locations on CWRU campus and at Progressive Field. Melt also has locations in Akron, Canton, Columbus, Dayton, and even at Cedar Point.
But this spring Fish decided it was time to renovate his original location (originally built in 1906). So, he shut the restaurant down and pulled off a major renovation in just one month. The Lakewood Melt will celebrate its grand re-opening this Friday, May 4.
“It’s a very quick project, and we’re trying to accomplish a lot in a very short time,” says Fish of the speedy renovation. “We’re hoping for a ‘wow' factor. We’ve run into some hiccups, but now nothing is going to push us back.”
He adds that he and the staff have been in the restaurant around the clock, as North Olmsted construction company Fortney & Weygandt complete the new design in the 3,700-square-foot space designed by Herschman Architects.
When Fish and some friends opened Melt in September 2006, the idea of selling grilled cheese sandwiches was just an idea Fish felt would work. “We put it together not knowing what it was going to turn into,” he recalls. He expanded the 1,800-square-foot restaurant by adding a patio in 2007 and taking over the neighboring storefront in 2008.
Fish says they “basically smashed two stores together to make it work” along the way, so the renovations will make the layout more accessible for both the staff and guests. “At some point, we were on three different floors to make it work,” he recalls, adding that in the early years the basement served as their offices, prep area, and storage room.
The new design will have a more open, airy layout, while still honoring the building’s history in the original brick work. “We’re using the building for the beauty that it is,” Fish says. “The focus is on keeping the original charm, but we’re updating it a lot. We’re utilizing all the elements that are there, but it’s going to be the Lakewood location. It’s been a local neighborhood bar and grill, and that’s what it’s going to be.”
Gordon Geiger and his brother Charles, who own nearby Geiger’s sporting goods store (along with locations in downtown Cleveland and Chagrin Falls), had originally purchased the Melt building in the mid-90s to house Gordo’s Board and Skate before moving it into the current Lakewood Geiger’s.
According to Geiger, the building was long-owned by the Vinch family, who operated The White Door Saloon on the first floor from the 1950s through the 80s and also rented out apartments on the second floor. The Geiger brothers bought the building from a Vinch heir in 1995.
Though Geiger was a little wary of Fish’s concept when first approached about renting the space, he is now a huge fan. “We scratched our head and could see deep into the soul of his eyes,” Geiger recalls. “He had passion and commitment to it.”
Fish says the spot was perfect for Melt’s first location. “Melt is what it is because of this building,” he says. “It’s got some good bones, and it’s a cool location to be in. It’s a great community, and they support their own. It’s a great place to be. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
Inside its walls, the Melt team is gutting the kitchen; putting in new walls, floors, and ceiling; and making updates and repairs that couldn’t be done while the kitchen was operating. The staircases from the two buildings that were combined during the 2008 expansion will now be connected.
“We’re finally catching up with where the company has been going for the past 10 years,” he says. “Now we’re taking time to connect things to make it work. It will make it easier for the staff.”
In the dining room, most of the updates are cosmetic, with a new host stand, “grander entrances” in both the front and back of the restaurant, and unisex bathrooms on the first floor (instead of upstairs). “There are still 110 seats, but the seating is spread out, which will be a lot more comfortable for guests,” says Fish.
The entire Lakewood staff is returning to the location when it re-opens. In the interim, the staff has been working at the five other Cleveland locations—and even Columbus—during the Lakewood Melt’s hiatus.
The renovated Lakewood Melt will open at 11 a.m. on Friday. Foundry Wood Prints has created Cleveland- and Lakewood Melt-themed wooden coasters to celebrate the renovation, which will be given away to guests during the opening week. CLE Clothing Company designed a commemorative T-shirt that will be on sale at the Lakewood location all month.
The sandwich special at all Melt locations for the months of May and June will be a selection of nine Old Skool Burgers.