By Dikla Tuchman, Jewish Sound Correspondent
At about this time last year, Greg Wagner was your average sales guy at Microsoft. But like many long-time tech industry folk here in the Pacific Northwest, Wagner was ready to embark on his next big adventure: Crafting outlandish grilled cheese sandwiches from a food truck.
Wagner watched the mobile food boom hit its height in Seattle and grabbed what he saw as the perfect opportunity to switch his sales role from corporate America to one-on-one interactions with hungry grilled-cheese lovers.
“I’ve for years and years thought about owning a restaurant or a bar because of the food idea, but also the social aspects of it,” Wagner said. “But it was always at the back of my mind. And then a couple years ago I saw the trucks coming and that just never left the front of my mind.”
Just as others who have recently opened up their own cuisine on wheels, Wagner knew owning and operating a food truck was, relatively speaking, an easy entry point into the industry. With a low investment, starting The Ultimate Melt seemed like a foolproof plan. That said, it took Wagner some coaxing to convince his wife that opening a food truck wasn’t a completely harebrained idea. She eventually came around and in February of 2013, he began his preliminary planning.
“I left Microsoft at the end of March, started this business the very beginning of April and through the 11 months, got everything up and running,” Wagner said. “We started with the truck buildout, which included a totally custom-made logo.”
That logo is nearly impossible to miss, as the truck resembles a giant, brightly colored grilled cheese sandwich.
Once the truck was ready, the next logical step was to hire a chef and begin the arduous task of recipe testing.
“I worked with a couple of buddies of mine that were chefs in the industry,” Wagner said.
Given that he had no industry background or a fully formed idea of a menu, “they could tell me what type of equipment I needed, and we worked through layouts,” he said.
As one might imagine, the small workspace available in the confines of a truck make configuring the cooking space a challenge.
As Wagner got down to the final details of unleashing The Ultimate Melt onto the Seattle food truck scene, he talked with some other local food truck owners to pick their brains.
“It’s a wonderful community,” Wagner said. “We’re in a commissary because every truck has to be attached to their commissary kitchen. There’s another truck in our commissary that we’re really good friends with and a couple of trucks next door to us.” During the 11-month period Wagner was getting his business together, he says he did more networking than he ever did at Microsoft. Wagner definitely has enjoyed the strong sense of community and camaraderie felt within the food truck community.
In this first month of business, Wagner found the most challenging component of the business could easily be considered one of those “good problems to have”: His initial business plan envisioned only two employees on the truck, him and a cook. He quickly realized he didn’t have enough bodies for the amount of work.
“Once I knew there was enough demand, I thought I would hire a third person,” Wagner said. “I discovered that on day three.”
As food trucks are also synonymous with “fast food,” it was essential for Wagner to have enough time to personally connect with his customers but also get them their food speedily.
As for the menu, Ultimate Melt boasts some of the most creative grilled cheese concoctions you’ve ever seen. Choices range from a sandwich stuffed with mozzarella sticks and cheese crunches to a double-crème brie, homemade fig aioli, thick-sliced bacon, and Granny Smith apple sandwich. Wagner calls that one the “We Brie Jammin’,” an homage to Bob Marley that has become the truck’s most popular melt, receiving rave reviews on Yelp! and other food review sites. This is also one of the few carnivorous sandwiches that can easily be made veggie by leaving off the bacon.
Wagner’s current The Ultimate Melt plans are to continue having a presence at upcoming community events and expanding his catering business. He parks primarily on the Eastside, but for a regular schedule of where you can find Wagner and his mouth-watering lunchtime delicacies visit theultimatemelt.com and follow him on Twitter and Facebook.