Long before Crystal De Luna-Bogan co-founded The Grilled Cheeserie, a popular food truck-turned brick-and-mortar, she was busy developing an appreciation for complex flavors in her own Mexican household in California.
After culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu, she went on work at The Four Seasons Hotel Beverly Hills and Clementine Bakery & Café, where she realized what she really loved was perfecting high-end comfort food. In 2010, she and her husband Joseph moved to Nashville, but missed the mobile dining scene in L.A. and decided to start The Grilled Cheeserie food truck. They’ve expanded to three brick-and-mortar locations, including a shop and commissary kitchen at Hunters Station in East Nashville. The pair are also on a mission to achieve “zero-waste” status and are using the restaurants as a platform to educate people on the importance of knowing where their food comes from and where the waste from that food goes.
WHERE IT ALL BEGAN
I have been cooking alongside my abuela since I was old enough to stand on a five-gallon bucket of lard in her kitchen. I learned from my father, who is also a small business owner, the value of a hard-earned dollar and nothing is given without the hustle. My work ethic is one of my strongest qualities handed down from him.
FROM FOOD TRUCK TO SHOP
When we started the food truck in 2010 it was just my husband and me. When we decided to grow the brand into brick-and-mortars we did so with a partnership with Fresh Hospitality who came on to help us build our infrastructure and offer our growing staff benefits, like health care and human resources—which a small restaurant would not be able to from the jump.
THE COVID EFFECT
We are already a Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) model so it wasn’t as challenging as it has been for table service restaurants to transition everything to go. We offered free delivery in the beginning. (We had to learn the hard way the nuances of that model—using our staff as our delivery drivers did not fare well for us.) Our business goals are to be able to hire back as much staff as business allows after having to furlough 63 hard-working team members. We are treading turbulent waters right now. The goal is to make it out on the other side without drowning.
My husband/business partner and I work as a pretty solid team at this point. My weaknesses are his strengths, vice versa. There is no separation of work/personal life when you own your own business. When I can socialize, I like to eat out with friends (pre-COVID), Netflix dates eating all the snacks with my husband after putting our baby to bed, and being around my toddler who makes my life balanced due to the fact that I have to be 100-percent present when I’m with her, which is such a gift.
LOOKING TO DO THIS TOO?
Work for someone who has a similar business as the one you aspire to do, or that models the work/life balance you seek. When I was 21, I had my first real a-ha moment working at the Four Seasons in fine dining for a male chef who had just had a baby. He broke down to me after a long dinner service from pure exhaustion and sadness from missing his newborn baby. I knew I wanted a family one day so I changed gears to private cheffing and catering and then started to work for my mentor Annie Miler at Clementine Cafe in Los Angeles. She had a successful business with her husband and small two kids. Her staff was diverse and she was a leader in the local and eco-friendly food movement. As a woman, it allows you a peek behind the curtain to know what you are really in for and learn from someone’s mistakes and successes.