There is no greater love, maybe, than for melted cheese — at least when it comes to eating. That may help explain the gangbusters expansion of a mac-and-cheese chain that opened its first local location in January but will blanket Long Island at the end of three years, if all goes to plan.
Franchisees Vinny Greco and Dan Dollard of Manor 3 have signed an agreement to open 23 I Heart Mac & Cheese locations in Nassau and Suffolk counties, with at least nine coming on board by the end of 2021, according to the chain. Their locales have yet to be determined, said chef Michel Blum, who co-founded I Heart Mac & Cheese in Fort Lauderdale in 2015 — but he suggested the first few will radiate out from the first LI location, in Patchogue. "Ideally [the first ones] would be in proximity of the original," said Blum. who oversees menu development. Three more I Heart Mac & Cheese eateries are set to open locally this year, four next year, and two more in 2021.
I Heart Mac & Cheese opened on the ground floor of the New Village at Patchogue in January with a fast-casual, Chipotle-style model of service: Customers choose a base (pasta, quinoa, romaine hearts, Tater Tots, broccoli, cauliflower, or a combo) and then pick from various cheeses, vegetables, proteins and sauces to finish their bowl, which is sent through a machine to bake under hot air until oozey and melted. In Patchogue, each bowl's base price is $9.75, and grilled cheese sandwiches are offered at the same price. The $18 bowl lobster and white truffle mac, "a signature dish" according to Blum, combines lobster claw and knuckle meat in a lobster-infused cheese sauce that's finished with white truffle oil.
As the spots use no fryers, hood systems or grease traps, their footprints are relatively compact. The chain's franchising plans go beyond Long Island, with new locations planned for New York City, Texas and Georgia, among others, said Blum. The chain is owned by CEO and chairman Steve Giordanella; Greco (a former assistant equipment manager for the New York Mets) and Dollard also own two Hurricane Grill & Wings locations on Long Island. Like I Heart Mac & Cheese, Hurricane Grill & Wings began as a Florida-based chain that expanded to Long Island about nine years ago.