A Lakewood Restaurant and Marketing Phenomenon: Melt
Melt Bar and Grilled of Lakewood, Ohio
Marketing Phenomenon and Restaurant Sensation
Reviewer’s Note: I had intended to review Panini’s Restaurant in Westlake, Ohio for my first formal restaurant review for this guide. After all, Panini’s gets a lot of Lakewood business and is a Cleveland institution. Additionally, there was a Panini’s in Lakewood early in their history. In fact, I believe it was located in the recently closed Riviera. The Riviera is (was) on the south side of Detroit Ave, right across the street from the Dairy Queen and next to the auto parts store. The Riviera, like its predecessor, offered Panini sandwiches all the way up until the day they closed. That stretch has always been incredibly competitive; and, several restaurants and bars have come and gone over the years.
So, after thinking about it, and after consulting with other restaurant reviewers I have respect for and whose work I follow, I thought it would be better if the initial review covered a Lakewood restaurant.
While this is by no means my first restaurant review, since this is the Lakewood Restaurant Guide, I thought we would begin with a Lakewood institution:
Melt Bar and Grilled of Lakewood, Ohio
I have lived in Lakewood for several years but I have never been inside the Melt Bar and Grilled restaurant. I have considered it several times but, for one reason or another, I just never got around to it. Consequently, when the opportunity to do this review came up, it seemed like an opportune moment and the obvious choice.
However, before going to Melt Bar and Grilled I did a little homework.
Matt Fish opened Melt Bar and Grilled in Lakewood, Ohio in September of 2006. In May of 2010, the restaurant expanded to the eastside, opening a new Melt Bar and Grilled in Cleveland Heights. Matt Fish has been a fixture in the Cleveland restaurant scene for almost 2 decades and certainly seems to have created a very comfortable niche with his dressed up comfort food, paraphrasing his quote:
“Comfort food dressed up.”
The real strength of the Melt Bar and Grilled phenomenon may be in their marketing. In every sense of the word, Melt has cornered brand awarness and using what is now called relationship marketing to create a loyal following. I got that from my inbound marketing consultant, by the way!
The Melt following does in fact seem more like Seth Godin’s Tribe. The Melt Tribe seems to identify with the message in a way that is immediately apparent. Melt offers everything from The Melt Challenge to Melt T-shirts and on to Melt Art. Restaurant patrons, and patrons seems like an understatement, even tattoo themselves with grilled cheese sandwiches!
How’s that for the power of brand awareness?
The Melt Bar and Grilled Facebook Fan Page has had over 20,000 people click the “Like” icon, expressing their approval.
Significantly, entire marketing campaigns for good sized companies, including some major restaurants in and around Cleveland have failed to deliver those kinds of numbers.
Melt, a relatively small restaurant business in a very restrictive niche, grilled cheese sandwiches, with a bit of flare, has garnered the kind of loyal following much larger companies pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for…and fail to achieve.
So, what is the secret?
Well, I had to know!
The review, thus far, has been about Melt’s marketing because understanding the marketing, dominated by what is referred to as inbound marketing, may help readers understand the rest of the review.
A group of us arrived at 4:45pm on a Saturday afternoon. Most restaurants are just beginning to gear up for dinner between 4pm amd 5pm and I thought we would be safe.
Boy…was I wrong!
People were everywhere and more were coming in the back and front entrances. Significantly, there was no real traffic pattern, just a desk to sign in at and pick up take out orders. I waited, signed in, told the host my name and how many were in my party, and was told it would be 2 hours.
2 hours at 4:45pm on a Saturday?
Keep in mind, this is not Morton’s or Mitchell’s. It isn’t Buca di Beppo’s or Friday’s or some other cookie-cutter franchise operation with a multi-million dollar ad budget.
This is a little Lakewood, Ohio specialty sandwich shop, Melt Bar and Grilled!
But I was there first and foremost for a review, so I decided to wait. A couple of people in our party opted out but the rest of us stayed. I have been in very slow restaurants in the US and abroad and the best strategy is simply to get out of the hurried American mindset, relax, and take it all in.
Let me make a note here: I never wait two hours for a meal, anywhere. I’ve had incredible meals at restaurants all over the world and outside of a few spots in the developing world where they literally go out the back door and buy the food after you order it, I have never waited 2 hours for a table. Yes, there are still places in the world where refrigeration or simple economics are such that the restaurant owner does not make a purchase until you do.
Talk about fresh!
But this was Lakewood, Ohio and people were waiting, a lot of people, and for a very long time!
I was intrigued.
One thing that immediately struck me was how Melt Bar and Grilled seems to be struggling with its popularity. The waiting area is actually bigger than the serving area, particularly if you remove the patio from the equation. Interestingly, when you enter the establishment they do not ask if it is your first time so once you provide your name you are cut loose and have to determine on your own where you can sit and wait.
Consequently, an area that appeared to be for seated customers was actually an area full of customers waiting for tables in the dining area. Customers who didn’t understand the rules or the seating arrangement, your reviewer among them, either made do…or stood around and got sore feet.
Some just got sore!
The bar was suggested but there is little hope of getting near the bar during their peak period. Between the people waiting to get drinks while they waited for tables and the people seated at the bar, drinking, eating, or both, the bar was a long shot…at best.
Many people just left, some after providing their names, some after waiting for upwards of an hour, a total waste of time, and others as soon as the got the news about the wait, probably first timers or people who value their time.
In the 80+ minutes we sat there, no one suggested that the seating area to the right of the check in was open for people to sit, have a drink, and get comfortable. Some people sat out in the heat, some left and came back, some milled about wherever they could find a spot until they finally figured out the system, others simply walked out, and still others walked in, gave their name, left, came back, and left again…for good.
As I’ve said, it was intesreting to watch!
In fact, this was as interesting as anything on the Animal Planet.
The “waiting habits” of Lakewood restaurant patrons!
Cue the announcer with the British accent:
“Watch as the patrons stealthily stalk the hostess, glaring, hoping to be spotted and seated. Notice the host and hostess, scurrying here and there, attemtping to avoid the glare of the wounded patron…”
The staff seemed to struggle to keep up, not only in the kitchen but the wait staff, as well.
Melt Bar and Grilled truly seems to be outgrowing itself and, after finally being seated, the additional wait seemed to verify that fact.
Melt Bar and Grilled, Lakewood, Ohio Timetable:
- Entered at 4:45pm
- Seated at 6:15pm give or take a few minutes (better than the 2 hours – probably told 2 hours in order to be safe and make customers happy when seated in less than 2 hours – smart)
- Drink Order 6:18pm
- Drinks: 6:25pm
- Waitress Disappears at 6:25pm
- Waitress Reappears at 6:45pm for second drink and order (approaching 2 hours)
- Sit for 20 minutes with empty drink glass
- Waitress refills drink at 7:15pm
- Appetizer at 7:20pm (2 hours and 20 minutes after signing in)
- Meal at 7:35pm
- Paid Check at 8pm and left Melt Bar and Grilled (3 hours)
Meal Review Follows (bet you never thought I would get to it):
I decided to have a bowl of the Spicy Corn and Crab Chowder for an appetizer and it was very good. It was spicy, too spicy for one person who wanted to try some of mine. But I like things spicy and it didn’t disappoint.
The soup was also hot!
This is almost never the case. I would say in 80% of the restaurants I have reviewed the soup has been an Achilles Heel!
In this case the soup was a bonus.
A couple of people started with the Melt House salad with a Berry Balsamic dressing and it was really very good. I tired a bit of the salad but stuck with the soup…it was just enough. The cup may have been too small of a portion.
I then had the Blackened Chicken sandwich with grilled peppers, onions, and provolone. The sandwich was big, hot, and tasty but a bit bland. Good but not great. I couldn’t finish all of the sandwich.
The sandwiches all come with hand cut fries, they were good but they seemed to have been redipped in the fryer? Perhaps out of design but they were a bit off and not quite fresh. Disappointing because I have heard from others that they can be quite good. Perhaps an off batch?
The cole slaw, also included, was very good. The cole slaw was not saturated in salad dressing or mayo, it was fresh and clean tasting with a bit of a vinegar taste and sweet but not too sweet.
It was the best cole slaw I have had in a restaurant in a long time!
I could not finish everything and several of my companions could not finish their meals either. We were asked if we wanted boxes and we all did. Had the food been sub par, I don’t think any of us would have asked for a box for the leftovers.
I am not sure how the sandwich will be the next morning, surely not as appealing as cold pizza, but we’ll see. The fries are a loss, I can’t imagine them being reheated and being palatable. The cole slaw, because it is not full of salad dressing, it will probably be fine for a day or so.
Overall, the meal was a good one and the food is no doubt why people keep coming, that and the marketing magic Melt seems to be able to spin.
Additionally, the food was very reasonable, the check for 6 people was under $70. That is a bargain considering the food was hot, tasty, and the company was good.
Ultimately, the time is a huge drawback.
3 hours for dinner at a specialty sandwich restaurant is not what I expected. Were there extenuating circumstances? Did someone call in sick? Was it a particularly busy day? It is hard to say.
Obviously, there is a reason why Melt Bar and Grilled is so popular and a big part of it is the food. But the service is a red flag, very slow and not very personable.
I always go back whenever I have an experience that seems incongruous. This one certainly seems to fit into that category. So, I will visit again soon and will update this review accordingly. That is, if The Lakewood Restaurant Guide asks me to…and perhaps I will anyway, as I am curious.
For whatever reason, and perhaps for a combination of reasons, Melt Bar and Grilled has a wildly loyal following and there must be a reason. The food is good.
The service? We’ll see. Maybe the waitress had a bad day? I’ll keep you informed.
Overall, I would give Melt Bar and Grilled 3 stars out of 5. Obviously, they lost a star because of the seating issue…and I am not sure how they will resolve that one. They lost half a star for the service (at least) and the other half star is just because the food, while good, was not great.
Like I said, perhaps next time. Because, Melt Bar and Grilled has a certain mystic or it has at least prodded my curiosity…so we will go again.
All-in-all, I would say the the Melt Bar and Grilled is a solid value, the prices are extremely reasonable, and the food was hot, tasty, and worth another try…perhaps at another time and on another day!
Becky S. Wilson, Reviewer
The Lakewood Restaurant Guide
PS, I did get this from a friend after writing this: “I was kinda dissappointed. Way too much hype over thick crusty bread with cheese. Oh well, the company was great and so were the fries … lol.”