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Cory’s Grilled Cheese should not be here. When Cory Schwartz first put his idea on paper to open a grilled cheese restaurant, he was living in Baltimore. The business plan was written as a final project for his Master’s program in Hospitality Management at Baltimore International College.
This is Cory (photo: Facebook)
The inception of the Cory’s Famous, which now sits proudly as #1 on his menu, was on a family vacation six years ago. Muenster cheese (Cory’s personal favorite), crispy bacon, and Honey Dijon on cinnamon raisin swirl bread was a unanimous hit with his family.
“So I always had this kernel of an idea,” he explains.
And so he went and got his Masters. And he wrote a business plan. And then a different grilled cheese restaurant opened less than a mile from the spot he proposed in his business plan.
“That really lit a fire under me. If I wanted to do the grilled cheese thing, I was going to have to leave and go to a place where they didn't have any grilled cheese."
Enter Charleston, South Carolina.
“When I first came here I thought I would just work in fine dining, live off the tips. But then I noticed that there were no food stands here. There was just hotdogs and Italian Ice. I thought, I could do grilled cheese as a food cart.”
Courtesy Cory's Grilled Cheese
It was more expensive than he thought it would be, but the sandwiches solved that problem for him: finding their way into the cheese-crazed College of Charleston crowd at the corner of Glebe and George, and later outside of the MUSC Institute of Psychology.
Cory’s goal was always to open a storefront, but the tipping point came this past year at the Charleston Wine + Food Festival.
Courtesy Cory's Grilled Cheese
Even though Cory could handle a line of up to 30 at a time behind his stand, he noticed that people were having a hard time finding him, and that he was limiting himself by operating on lunch time hours. James Island proved to be the perfect fit, a place that Cory describes as having a “serious shortage” of quick service restaurants where you can order at a counter and get an affordable meal.
“And besides, you can only eat tacos so many days a week.”
Facebook: A guest-invented sandwich of muenster and pimiento cheeses, sauteed peppers, and tomatoes on jalapeno cornbread
Confession: in my two trips to Cory’s, I haven’t actually eaten a grilled cheese. However, I can say that a Bacon, Egg and Pimento Cheese on an English muffin is every bit as good as it sounds. Their Grilled BLT, which I had for lunch, wasn’t loaded: the tomato slices are sliced fairly thin with a handful of lettuce, but there is a generous amount of crispy bacon and mayo (those are the best parts anyway, right?). The beauty of sandwich—like any good BLT—is the simple, tasty combination of ingredients that melts in your mouth as one, full flavor.
The staff is hospitable and very friendly; in fact, many of them are Cory’s friends. They care about the food in a way that a “my pleasure” at Chick-fil-A can’t teach. If you ask nicely, they may even shake some cinnamon and sugar on your sweet potato fries.
You will probably see Cory in the store when you go (and you should go). The most common question he hears is, “What should I get?”
HG: If I came in here and I can only eat here one time, what should I order?
CS: Ha, that’s a tough question. The Cory's Famous started it all. It's a little smaller, so if you are really hungry I recommend The Downtown. The Lowcountry is my new favorite right now—it was a big favorite at the Charleston Wine + Food Festival, too.
Facebook: The Sweet Morning Sandwich
HG: How much of this is art for you?
CS: I've always considered myself a creative person. I studied art [at UPenn in Philadelphia] and spent a long time at Starbucks as a manager, so it's a culmination of personal and professional for me. The creativity of constructing a sandwich, there's something sublime about that. I hear all the time that this is the best grilled cheese I've ever had. Someone once called me "a grilled cheese perfectionist.” I like the grilled cheese to come out in a favorite specific way..."
HG: Are there any technical things that go into making a great grilled cheese?
CS: Yeah, it’s in the wrist. Ha, no, the secret is melted butter and a brush. Cover every inch of the bread with butter. Flat pan grill. With butter you can pretty much make anything taste better.
HG: I once read an article in Esquire that said the best place to start experimenting with food is with grilled cheese. Any advice for novices trying to develop their own grilled cheese masterpiece?
CS: I always start with what's your favorite cheese? Then go with whatever else you like. Fruit, vegetables: everything goes well with melted cheese. Bacon goes with pretty much everything, too. Then you can go anywhere. We do a lot of sweet stuff with caramelized onions and apples. We also do pimento with avocado. Any bread, really. Sourdough is our most popular. Go with a good sandwich bread instead of artisan bread, because artisan is physically harder and doesn't melt the cheese as well. It's such a personal thing.
Cory’s Grilled Cheese is now open on James Island in the Piggly Wiggly parking lot on the corner of Folly Road and Maybank Highway. They serve their full menu (including breakfast) starting at 7a.m. Live music every Wednesday starting at 7pm.
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