Wall Street Goes for a Ride on a $100 Million Grilled Cheese Truck

Grilled Cheese Truck 003


In January, The Grilled Cheese Truck, Inc. became the world’s first publicly traded food truck business (ticker symbol: GRLD).
Its early valuation of $108 million is based on 18 million shares that started trading at around $6. For less than the price of a Plain and Simple Melt off the lunch truck’s menu, you can now own a piece of the company.

By all accounts The Grilled Cheese Truck makes a pretty darned good grilled cheese sandwich, and who doesn’t love grilled cheese? But before you put your lunch money into a brokerage account, let’s do a little reality check on what it means to have a $100 million valuation in something called ‘the mobile gourmet grilled cheese space.’

The company owns four licensed catering trucks, a whole lot of cheese, and not much else. In the SEC documents filed ahead of the public offering, GRLD claimed assets worth $1 million while owing nearly $3 million against them. If those were my trucks, I’d be looking out for the repo man. Their track record in sandwich slinging is even more dismal. The financial statements they filed showed that their best stretch was the third quarter of 2014 when the company lost more than $900,000 on sales of $1 million. For the first nine months of the fiscal year, GRLD reported a total loss of $4.4 million on $2.6 million in sales.

Once you get past the woeful fundamentals, GRLD still isn’t looking so hot.
None of its sandwiches showed up last April (a.k.a. National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Month) when Women’s Day paid tribute to the 10 greatest grilled cheese sandwiches. Nor were they cited by Zagat on its list of 30 Awesome Grilled Cheese Sandwiches around the U.S. The Grilled Cheese Truck didn’t even make the cut when Mobile Cuisine named the 2014 Grilled Cheese Food Truck Of The Year and its four runners up.

Before you plunk down cash for shares, you might want to talk to some Cereality franchisees, or more accurately, former franchisees. Every one of their businesses has failed. Like grilled cheese sandwich trucks, the cold cereal cafés were based on a single, universally loved dish that most people already prepare at home. A decade ago more than 6,000 potential investors lined up for the opportunity to buy into a franchise concept that USA Today described as “so absurdly simple, self-indulgent… well, how can it fail?” Well, it did, after each owner had ponied up franchise fees and startup costs ranging between $145,650 and $461,300. Cereality is currently in retrenchment mode, down to just two company-owned outlets; one an airport kiosk and the other located inside a hospital cafeteria.

When it comes to grilled cheese sandwiches, I’d pass on Wall Street and stick to lunch. But if you really want a wild ride, Cereality is still looking for a few new franchisees.

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Booking Bots Create a Black Market for Restaurant Reservations

image via

image via


Sci-fi movies like to unleash malevolent, scheming computers that are out to destroy humanity.
On Wall Street, computers wreak havoc with high-speed algorithms and lightning-fast trades that churn through data and crash financial markets.
When computers run amok on restaurant websites, they grab up all the good tables.

Have you tried to get a Saturday night reservation lately?
The most popular restaurants often have very specific reservation cycles. On the 6th day of every month, the top-ranked global destination Noma opens its bookings for three months out and might see 20,000 requests on that one day. San Francisco’s hot new State Bird Provisions releases future tables at 4a.m. and the prime times are all gone long before sunrise. Unless you want the 5:30 or 10:30 slots that seem to be all that’s ever left on Open Table or Urban Spoon, you’re out of luck.

Robots are stealing your dinner.
‘Bots’ (derived from robots) are software programs that do your bidding in cyberspace. They’re best at repetitive and mundane tasks, like endlessly scouring websites for tables to book. They’ve been operating for years on eBay, where they’re programmed to swoop in with a just-high-enough bid during an auction’s last nanosecond, and on ticketing sites where bots keep a step ahead of site security to scoop up the best seats, often for ticket brokers and scalpers. Now they’re invading restaurant websites and online reservation systems.

Not all coders live on Red Bull and pizza. 
The Bay Area is a high-density region for both food lovers and tech lovers, and you’ll find plenty of overlap. There the reservation bots have sprung from hacker culture and they’re dominated by open-source software like Mechanize and the free service at HackerTable, which lives up to its descriptor as reservations at elusive restaurants by combing other booking engines for cancellations and snatching up rare and rarified tables at places like The French Laundry and Chez Panisse.

In New York, reservations are bought and sold like it’s the trading floor of the stock exchange.
There’s no programmer at the helm of Today’s Epicure, but a former hotel concierge who knows the value of New York’s most coveted tables. An annual membership fee of $1,000 (shorter terms are also available) gives access to impossible reservations at the highest profile restaurants of the moment. In addition to the cool thou to join, Today’s Epicure also tacks on a variable fee that hovers around $100 per booking, rising with the lateness of the date and the hotness of the venue.

Bots and scalpers have been widely criticized for the undemocratic way they pervert the sales process, whether it’s an auction website, a popular restaurant, or a concert ticket. The anti-scalping movement got a boost this summer when it was widely reported that Beyoncé fans were shut out of her concerts by ticket-buying bots. The tour’s dates in Washington, D.C. set off a particular furor when tickets went on sale one morning at 10a.m. and were all gone—snapped up by automated transactions—by 10:01a.m. A handful of state legislatures have already passed or are considering anti-scalping regulations targeting ticket brokers. If computer programmers and deep-pocketed diners keep crowding the rest of us out of restaurants, the backlash is sure to follow.


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50 States, 50 Hamburgers

americanhamburgerWe’re not just a hamburger nation; we’re a bigger and a better hamburger nation than we were just a few short years ago.

We have burger momentum across the boards.
The old-school, classic burger joints are thriving in small towns and downtowns. At the same time the gourmet burger has found a legitimate place on high-end menus where it’s being made from fresh grinds of prime beef cuts and served on quality breads and buns. They’re being accompanied by a dizzying array of pickles and condiments that are crafted with renewed creativity and attention to detail. There’s even a fast-food burger revival led by chains like  In-N-Out, Five Guys Burgers and Fries, Smashburger, The Counter, and Shake Shack, all serving serious but unpretentious burgers.

Tastier than a bald eagle, more beloved than Uncle Sam.
Pizza, tacos, sushi, falafel—they’ve all made a run at the hamburger. But like America itself, the burger is unshakeable. It came to us as an immigrant from Hamburg but quickly learned the language. It’s egalitarian and a little artless, socially mobile and likes to push its way onto foreign shores. The hamburger continually absorbs regional differences and global influences but remains unequivocally, unapologetically American.

The Serious Eats family of websites is never more serious than when they’re discussing burgers. 
There’s lively conversation on Burger Talk, recipes from the Burger Lab, and for the true obsessive connoisseur there’s A Hamburger Today. And now they’ve given us The United States of Burgers, an interactive map of the most iconic burgers and burger restaurants from each of the 50 states.

Delaware has lava rock-grilled burgers from the 1950’s-era Charcoal Pit drive-in; New Mexicans top theirs with roasted green chiles; Iowans eat loose meat, falling somewhere between a hamburger and a sloppy Joe; and New Jersey has its sliders, although Kansas claims White Castle as its own. There are hamburgers that call out for a road trip like Minnesota’s legendary cheese-stuffed Juicy Lucys, and the dry-aged ground beef burgers from New York’s Peter Luger Steakhouse. And there are states we prefer to just drive straight through without stopping like Tennessee where Dyer’s deep fries its hamburgers in cooking oil that they proudly claim has not been changed in over 100 years. Order a cheeseburger and it gets a second, cheese-melting dunk in the century-old grease.

You can let The United States of Burgers be your guide, or design your own burger pilgrimage with help from Burger GPS, a mobile app from hamburger expert George Motz that directs you to all the best hamburgers from coast to coast.

The results from the National Burger Survey show how we really like our burgers.

[image via Zazzle UK]

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National Burger Survey: The Results are In

How do you want your burger?
Burgers are our national craving. We love the flat, griddled old-school style patties of classic burger joints and the fresh grinds of prime beef dressed up on high-end menus. Last year we purchased 50 billion of them served every-which-way—that’s about a burger a week for every man, woman, and child. The Zagat survey took a recent look at what’s between our buns.

$295 Guinness record holder for priciest burger served at New York’s Serendipity Restaurant


How much are you willing to spend on a burger?

less than $10: 29%
$10 – $14.99: 50%
$15 – $19.99: 14%
$20 or more: 8%




How do you like your burger cooked?
Medium Rare: 38%
Medium: 36%
Medium Well: 16%
Well Done: 6%
Rare: 4%





image via The Burger Joint, New York

Where do you typically go for a burger?

Specialty Burger Restaurant: 15%
General Restaurant: 18%
Fast-Food Spot: 14%
Diner: 3%
Make at Home: 14%

69% reported that they have at least once indulged in a super-premium burger with ingredients like truffles or foie gras


Toppings menu via 5 Guys, recently named America’s Favorite Burger Chain in Zagat’s survey of fast food customers

Which Toppings Do You Like Best? (choose multiple): 

Cheese: 82%
Lettuce: 59%
Tomato: 59%
Onions— Grilled: 56%; Raw: 43%
Bacon: 54%
Pickles: 48%
Mushrooms: 33%

And Your Least Favorite Topping? (choose one):

Jalapeños: 20%
Raw Onions: 15%
Mushrooms: 13%
Guacamole: 12%
Pickles :12%

60% of diners say they  prefer a specialty  roll while 23% prefer a standard bun

Another survey from the market research firm Technomic found a generation gap in burger customization with nearly twice as many 18-35 year olds willing to pay extra for premium toppings than those who are 35+.

vintage condiment set via Etsy

Favorite Condiment (choose multiple):

Ketchup: 66%
Mustard: 47%
Mayonnaise: 44%
Barbecue Sauce: 27%
Thousand Island Dressing: 17%

Least Favorite Condiment: (choose 1):
Relish: 20%
Mayonnaise: 19%
Hot Sauce: 18%

When it comes to cheese, cheddar is the clear favorite at 38%. American is second at 15%; blue cheese is a surprisingly strong third at 13%, followed by Swiss (12%, and Monterey Jack (6%).

image via SnackoClock


 Do You Mostly Eat Burgers for…? (choose 1 or 2):

Dinner: 75%
Lunch: 60%
Late-Night Snack: 9%
Breakfast: 2%




image via University of Pennsylvania Vegan Society

Pick your patty:

Beef: 85%
Bison: 5%
Turkey: 4%
50% of women and 33% of men also said they occasionally opt for a vegetarian patty

Grass-fed and/or organic beef registered as an important choice for just 15%; another 43% said it’s a consideration, and 42% said it’s not a factor.

6% prefers little sliders to full-size burgers.

image via Side A Fries, Detroit, MI


Favorite side:

French fries: 63%
Onion rings: 16%
Tater Tots: 6% 

(note that Tater Tots were favored at the same rate as sliders. Mere coincidence or overlapping survey populations?)

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Rectangles or Triangles: Settling the Sandwich Debate

  sandwich cutting diagrams via


A sandwich is two slices of bread enclosing a filling.
In theory. Most of us treat those bread slices as a blank canvas on which to paint the colors and contours of our appetites, our pantries, and our histories.
Mortadella or tuna? Lettuce or sprouts? White or rye? There are infinite combinations and permutations of taste and texture, each requiring its own tough choices.
But there’s one no-brainer: the cut.

I don’t mean to suggest that the decision is trivial. Quite the opposite. It’s easy because it’s an unwavering, discrete choice that most sandwich-makers settle on in childhood and seldom vary throughout a lifetime (excepting the club sandwich four-triangle imperative, but that mandate takes the decision out of our hands). Vertical or diagonal: it’s easy but never trivial; in fact many individuals believe that the success of the entire sandwich-making endeavor hinges on the choice.

According the Hellmann’s Mayonnaise State of the Sandwich Survey, a full three-quarters of Americans take a knife to a completed sandwich, with 60% making a diagonal cut and 38% slicing on the vertical. There are regional differences. A third of all midwesterners prefer uncut sandwiches, and they are more likely to finish the crusts (73% versus 63% for everyone else).

Hunch, the online recommendation engine much-loved by advertisers, includes a sandwich-cutting question in its data collection, suggesting it believes that these preferences belong in the Hunch algorithm as a signifier of other traits and behaviors. With responses numbering in the tens of millions, Hunch has ascertained that those who cut their sandwiches diagonally are partial to Ray-Ban sunglasses.

Many light eaters advocate for the four-triangle cut.
Assuming that they might not finish the entire sandwich, they like the option of working their way from point to crust. It gives them four chances with a long stretch of crust-free bread and the best access to the sandwich’s midpoint, which is likely to have the greatest concentration of sandwich filling. In this way, not unlike most pizza eaters, they can maximize the meal’s outcome (flavors and proteins) while appetites are fresh, and abandon the skimpily-filled crust ends as they fill up.

The mathematically inclined—teachers, engineers, architects, and the like—also tend to be strong proponents of the diagonal cut.
They argue that while a sandwich’s crust is constant, diagonal cutting increases the ratio of uncrusted to crusted surfaces, thereby increasing your enjoyment. It just takes a little Euclidean geometry.

bisect sandwich.bmpConsider a sandwich made from bread that’s roughly a square with 4 inch sides. That’s 16 inches of crust.
Cut it in half and you have 8 uncrusted inches of sandwich. Halve it again orthogonally and you get 16 uncrusted inches to the same 16 inches of crust.

diagonal sandwich.bmp
Let’s take that same sandwich with its 16 inches of crust, but this time we’ll cut it in half diagonally. Each long, hypotenuse side of the two triangles is going to measure about 5½ inches (who could forget Pythagoras’ theorem?) for a total of 11 uncrusted inches. Halve it again and the uncrusted edges of the four triangles add up to a whopping 22 inches to that same, original 16 inches of crust.

The diagonal cut squeezes 6 more uncrusted inches out of a single 4-inch square sandwich.
I’d say we have our winner.
The great sandwich debate of rectangles vs. triangles is finally settled. What a relief.

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The KFC Double Down Beats Salad as the Healthier Fast Food Option


For those of you who are late to the party, KFC stunned the fast food world, and indeed anyone with arteries, with its recent introduction of a breadless chicken sandwich; an unapologetically gluttonous, meat-on-meat affair teaming bacon strips and two cheeses between slabs of fried chicken. A mysterious substance known only as the Colonel’s sauce helps tie it all together.

When the Double Down was first announced (after a quick calendar check to confirm that it was not April 1st), we were struck by the audacity of this unsandwich and its clever use of cholesterol-laden proteins from three separate animals. It was immediately reviled in the press for its in-your-face challenge to citizen groups and governmental agencies that are advocating for healthier options in the battle against childhood obesity. KFC seemed to be laughing in the face of the new nutrition labeling requirements. […]

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A Sandwich by Any Other Name

Customer in French restaurant: Do you have frogs’ legs?
Waiter: Yes Sir.
Customer: Then hop into the kitchen and get me a ham sandwich!


What satisfies like a sandwich?

.At its most basic, a sandwich is two slices of bread enclosing a filling. Those fillings can be hearty, refined, exotic, or homey. The sandwich is a blank canvas on which to paint the colors and contours of the world around us.

The sandwich canon expands with each new wave of immigration. The format is flexible enough to absorb them all, crystallizing the flavors and essence of each cuisine. […]

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Must love sandwiches


Sexy ovo-lacto vegetarian on the hunt for the perfect creme brulee.

- ad courtesy of TuttiPersonals/

Would you date someone who doesn’t like Chinese Food? Or chocolate? Or wine?
What if you’re chevre on a crusty baguette and they’re Velveeta on white? You’re low carbs and they’re pancake breakfasts?

Forget about personality types, pheromones, and horoscope signs; true compatibility is all about the food. […]

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