#FoodTruckFriday : Brittny Lowrey & The Happy Grilled Cheese
Let me start by saying that a Food Truck filled with an entire menu of GRILLED CHEESE is essentially a dream come true … for me anyway. I had high hopes for my first experience with The Happy Grilled Cheese and am happy to report that they were far surpassed. We went for one of their signature menu items called the Mac Melt which housed - are you ready for it? - three cheeses, homemade mac-n-cheese and grilled onions. YUM. I was in cheese ecstasy and that is exactly where i’d prefer to stay.
It wasn’t the sandwich that brought us in the door at The Happy Grilled Cheese’s new brick-and-mortar spot in downtown Jacksonville, rather it was their Director of Operations/Sometimes Food Truck Chef Brittny Lowrey. Did we mention that her repertoire of jobs also includes Food Writer for Jacksonville Restaurant Reviews?
It was Brittny that gave us our first glimpse at what to expect from this Brand. She greeted us with a warm smile and hospitable environment (despite our tardiness #jaxparkingproblems). Our conversation was light, fun and taught us lots about what goes into building a successful food truck Brand. See what Brittny had to say about her experience with Brand, The Happy Grilled Cheese, and as an Influencer with Jacksonville Restaurant Reviews.
Has anyone else in the area tried to do grilled cheese?
At this time, we have the market. We’ve put a tremendous amount of focus on being Brand aware and Brand conscious. I wanted to be sure that we had a standard and a requirement to which we were holding ourselves. The sandwiches should go out looking the same, our customer service should always be the same, etc. I never wanted a customer to go into the restaurant and say they liked it better than the food truck or vice versa. As we continue to grow we want to be sure we focus on that in order to continue holding the key to the grilled cheese market.
Are you a Jacksonville native?
I am not. I grew up in a super small town in Mississippi. From there I moved to Baton Rogue where I attended LSU and graduated with a degree in Secondary Education and English. I was a territory manager for a spa franchise in both South Louisiana and Northeast Florida and found myself a little bored, so I moved to Jacksonville. I fell in love with Jacksonville, slowly. Once I found my place, the love came quicker. Now I think I may be calling this home. Well see!
As a food reviewer, you understand the important of Influence. What do you think of Influencer Marketing and the direction it’s heading?
I think that it’s a good local trend to see, especially here in Jacksonville. We are such a transitory city, we have people from all over the world here and so many different opinions and insights. We try to write not on the basis of “this place is good” or “this place is bad”, rather “if you like these types of things, this place would be good for you.” I think there is something that soothes everyone to some extent. To find your place in a city like Jacksonville I think it’s important to have a lot of Influencers each with different backgrounds to discuss how they see things. (Say it louder for the people in the back! Multiple voices, reaching multiple audiences is the best way to make Influencer Marketing work for you!)
When you think about working with Influencers to promote the Happy Grilled Cheese, what are you looking for in an Influencer?
We’re such a light-hearted Brand and we like that to carry over with our Influencers. A lot of food writers seem to take things a little too seriously. We joke that it’s just grilled cheese, but really, it’s just grilled cheese. We want people that are happy and enthusiastic coming to talk about my Brand because that is who we are. We want to build a relationship with an Influencer who will take the time to understand our Brand and what we offer and why we offer those things. We make decisions for our Brand and the best of the customers and we need people to help convey that to an audience.
Do you work on the food truck? If so, what is that like?
Yes! It’s a dance and a rhythm and anyone who has ever worked in a kitchen understands that it is a really magical feeling when you can push out 200 checks without even saying a word to each other. We have a really small staff and we just flow. We talk without talking and dance around each other. It’s busy and it’s hot and it’s a ton of work, but it is fun. It’s a feeling like none other.
Do you have a favorite menu item?
I’m currently hooked on our Greek Salad. We make all our salad dressings in house and we have a creamy feta dressing that we made to mimic a Lebanese restaurant back in Baton Rouge. Grilled Cheese wise, the Cheesey Jalapeño Popper is one of my favorites. It comes loaded with mac-n-cheese, nacho cheese, bacon, jalapeños - there’s no rules here, we put everything on grilled cheeses.
We know in the service industry especially it can be easy to get overwhelmed. What do you do to keep yourself motivated?
I really try to keep in perspective that we are doing all this for a higher goal. Our Brand is bigger than ourself. Yes, I might be flustered in this moment, but that should not influence my staff or our customers. We are here for the Happy Grilled Cheese. The Brand is a lot and it’s going to be a lot more. We all focus on being able to be here on the ground floor knowing that we’re going to be something awesome!
When you have friends and family visit you in Jacksonville, what are some of the things you like to do with them?
I take everyone to Orsay. It’s my absolute favorite and definitely the best restaurant in Jacksonville. I also take everyone to MOCA. I feel like that is something so incredible and unique to Jacksonville - there’s always something interesting there. Food tours are also a must … obviously. RAM is also really cool.
If you could travel anywhere in the world in 2019, where would you go?
I would love to go to Greece or Italy. I’m definitely destined to eat my weight in pasta one of these days. More realistically, I love Nashville. i think it’s a lot like Jacksonville, a bit more compact, but they have a great food truck scene.
Would they even let you leave for two weeks on a bucket list vacay??
They would let me, but i don’t think I would let myself. We have a great team here and they are trained to make the best decisions, but I worry. I worry about all the crazy things that can happen in the restaurant industry. The food truck breaks down on a Friday night - I want to be there. I don’t worry because these things might happen, I worry because they have happened. If nothing else, being on a food truck will make you the most excellent problem solver. You are prepared for anything at any time. (Side note: We saw this in action after our meeting when the first customer of the day came in and surprise! the POS system wasn’t working. Brittny seemed cool, calm and collected while handling the matter and we have no doubt she used her problem solving skills to get the rest of the day on track and running smooth!)
If you were having a dinner party and could invite one celebrity guest, who would it be?
I would love to sit down with Michelle Obama and let her talk to me for hours. She is and has been a big influence on me because it’s tough to be a woman in a field that is predominately men. Obviously both politics and the restaurant industry are male dominated. I’ve always believed that while it’s tough, that doesn’t mean you can’t do it or stop trying or that any door should ever be closed. Watching her and listening to her and her story made me realize that I just need her guidance. It would be a small dinner party, but there would be lots of courses to allow for ample conversation.
Do you have a go-to cocktail?
I’m more of a wine drinker, but Absolut and Cranberry has been my go-to liquor drink for as long as I can remember. Wine is my preference though.
Do you have any advice for anyone thinking of starting a food truck?
Hold on. It’s very hard. Especially here in Jacksonville where there are so many trucks and not so many spots. Part of that is legislation and part is infrastructure. There are a lot of costs that people don’t take into consideration. It’s easy to look at us running a full staff with a line and think that we’re making a ton of money, but no one considers the cost that goes behind it. Also, be prepared for things to go wrong. It’s scary and it’s hard, but if you have the right drive and dedication you will make it. Put focus on your Brand. You need people to follow you. A Brand new truck can’t open it’s doors and expect lines. It takes time, but it’s so worth it.
Is there something on your 2019 bucket list that you’d like to share?
Professionally, i’d love to see one-to-two more restaurants this year. Personally, I have really gotten into yoga and I look forward to continuing with my practice and becoming more aware of myself.
Is there something about yourself that would surprise people who follow you or know you?
I am the biggest antisocial introvert and homebody. I talk to people all day, everyday and when I go home, I don’t go out. I’m on my couch watching Game of Thrones or reading a book. Social media is misleading because i’m posting, but i’m posting from my home where it’s quiet. (Cheers to that ;-) )