Nate Pollak, The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen Cofounder, On Leaving Tech For The Perfect Grilled Cheese


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It's a scenario most people who slave in front of a screen all day have imagined at least once: ditching the tie, taking a sledgehammer to the computer and opening a restaurant. That's precisely what Nate Pollak and Heidi Gibson did. (Except maybe without the sledgehammer bit.)

Throwing caution to the wind at the height of the financial crisis, the San Francisco couple opened The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen down the street from AT&T Park. Now, Pollak and Gibson have a second location, a new dinner service (they'll start doing dinner seven nights a week later this Summer) and, best of all, San Francisco's trendy grilled cheese market squarely cornered.

Pollak took a quick break from the grill to talk to us about the San Francisco restaurant market, transitioning out of the tech universe and how to make the perfect grilled cheese sandwich.

So how did you come up with this? It all started in 2008. Heidi and I both worked for big tech firms and we met in the elevator. Eventually we started dating, and by the end of 2008 we'd both been laid off in the financial crises. We had no idea what to do.

Ouch. So how did that lead to grilled cheese? As a hobby, Heidi used to compete in this thing called The Grilled Cheese Invitational in Los Angeles. She'd won that competition more than anyone else as an amateur chef. I went down to help her in 2009 and people kept telling us we should open a restaurant. At the time, there were no loans anywhere; it was literally the worst time to open a business. We spent every penny we'd ever made, and on the day it opened I had a negative balance in my bank account.

So what's the secret to the perfect grilled cheese? Well, there are a lot of ways to mess it up. People often use the wrong kind of bread, but the biggest mistake is not using salted butter. You've got to use European-style salted butter so it gets an even crisp. Heidi likes maximum crisp.

Click here for more questions with Nate Pollak!

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