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Nate Pollak Talks About The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen's New Mission Spot

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 Heidi Gibson and Nate Pollack.
Heidi Gibson and Nate Pollack.
Photo: Tillamook

Cafe Gratitude is getting ready to kiss Harrison Street goodbye this Friday. Meanwhile, the owners of South Park runaway grilled cheese success American Grilled Cheese Kitchen, Nathan Pollak and Heidi Gibson are gearing up to open a second outpost at the address. With double the seating of their existing location, and a newly added dinner service featuring a burger and sausages by Citizen's Band's Chris Beerman, it'll be a bit like American Grilled Cheese Kitchen is all grown up. They'll serve salads, and the breakfast and lunch menus are going to expand as well. Pollak caught up with Eater to talk about The American's first bar with beer and wine on tap, his very fancy espresso machine, and his new buddies across the way at Flour + Water.

How are things going leading into American Grilled Cheese 2.0? Things are great. We're currently having our best season ever by the ballpark. We're not only open during night games but after them too now. And we had the good news today that the Golden State Warriors will be building a stadium on The Embarcadero. It's great for us.

When did you know it was time for a second American Grilled Cheese Kitchen? You know, we raised money the traditional way for this new spot. We earned enough at our existing location to sign a new lease. No Kickstarter. No investors. We drained our life savings for the first American Grilled Kitchen and now we're draining all our savings again for this. It's scary, but at least this time we've got some income from the ballpark spot.

So you're going to flesh out the menu at the new place? Yes, in fact, my dinner tonight is going to be burger testing at Pinkie's. We'll use their amazing burger buns. Were going to be open from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. at the Mission location, and our new dinner service is going to have a lot on it besides grilled cheese.

Tell me about the build-out you're planning. We've got our amazing designer, architect and fabricator on board: Wylie Price. He's going to incorporate a lot of elements from the first location. We have to keep the branding consistent so this is going to be a warm, comfortable sandwich shop where our customers will feel loved.

Are you breaking down any walls? We are going to rebuild the bar entirely. It'll be a hyper-local beer bar. I'm friends with the guys at Brewtruc and Pacific Brew Lab, and very much in touch with the young, new artisan brewers in town. The owners of Fat Angel are friends too, and they've been advising us on the wine on-tap program. It's a great way to store wine.

Any other fun additions? It was a tough sell to get him, but Drew Bennet is going to do a mural on the wall at the new location. He did the evolution of grilled cheese mural we have on South Park. The new mural will be tied to the existing one in some way. It will continue the story. We're also offering espresso service for the first time. I just bought a La Marzocco espresso machine. We're speaking to De La Paz about the beans. No one else has them in the area.

Tell me about some of the new foods you'll be offering. Our baking operation is going to grow. People think of us first for grilled cheese, but we do an amazing breakfast business. We make muffins in flavors like coconut pineapple and bourbon apple banana from scratch every morning. We also do blondies and cream biscuits. The flavors are always changing. Like we just did a jalapeno cheddar biscuit and one with smoked turkey and chive.

Will the new bigger kitchen at Mission effect your South Park location? Yes. We'll probably add the same menu extensions there as well. The salads. But we need to see how everything works and grow it organically. I expect our service to be quicker in the Mission too.

How's it been working in your new neighborhood so far? You know who was the most encouraging about our move? David White and David Steele, the partners at Flour + Water. They have such a long line every night and they're excited people will be able to get a beer in our spot now. They realize we'll be bringing a lot to the neighborhood. We'll be the more casual dinner option, because we're still going to be quick service. We'll also do some sort of casual brunch.

What's the timeline like? We move in June 1. We're changing the building and we're doing it the legit way, getting all our licensing and permitting and doing it ethically, which wasn't always the case with the prior tenant. We got approval from the planning commission for sidewalk seating. We'll have eight tables on both streets and the windows will swing open. It's going to take three to four months, so we'll probably open in September or October at the latest.

At that point, will the outside of the building look different? We're adding a sign, and we'll be painting it.

What color? I don't know, but not the color it is now.

Do you think you'll eventually have even more outposts? Our mission is to serve the best grilled cheese sandwiches using unique local ingredients and the best possible service. Heidi and I have promised that we'll never have more than two or three locations so we can stay true to that.

· The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen inks deal to take over the Mission’s Cafe Gratitude [ISSF]
· All American Grilled Cheese Kitchen Coverage [~ ESF ~]

The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen

2400 Harrison St, San Francisco, CA

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