Bobby Lindholm was closing the Escape Room for the night when he realized that there were no restaurants in downtown Florence opened past 10 p.m. It was then that Lindholm set it in his phone that if no one had opened a new restaurant by April 2019, he was going to do it.
“I’ve been to so many college towns and I thought that it was crazy,” said Lindholm, UNA alumni and owner of the Escape Room. “[UNA] has eight to nine thousand students and nothing to eat after 10 p.m. What’s going on? After leaving the Escape Room, I got tired of eating fast food so I started dreaming on, ‘If I had to open something, what would it be?’”
April came quickly. Lindholm’s phone jingled on his nightstand and, mistaking it for a message, he saw that it was a reminder telling him that he had to open a restaurant. Ignoring it, he laughed, rolled over and went back to sleep.
“I woke up the next morning and it was like a lightbulb had hit and it was like, ‘I have to open up a grilled cheese restaurant,” Lindholm said.
Since he had never been in the food business before, Lindholm was nervous. He did not want to get in over his head and create a “full-scale place with massive over-head.” Instead, he pondered on, “what I can do very well?”
That was when he knew that he needed to be Cheesy Bob.
“For me, it was let’s get into something that easy, simple and affordable for college students and let’s stay open super late,” Lindholm said. “[But also,] let’s bring gourmet cheeses imported in wax wheels that people have never even heard of, can’t spell. [I wanted it] so that the business people of downtown could also come and enjoy [the food] during lunch.”
But the execution of his new restaurant, Cheesy Bob’s Grilled Cheese was a different story.
While the idea of grilled cheese was decided on, Lindholm now had to think about where to place it. He considered placing it near Florence Mall, but with all the traffic it has, his mind went elsewhere.
“It went back to [acknowledging that] UNA does not have anything after 10 p.m.,” Lindholm said. “So, I knew I needed to stick close to the campus.”
That was when Lindholm came up with the idea to pitch to Jorge Martinez, who owned El Pollito Loco.
“When I was talking to him, he told me about his plan of making three or four restaurants as a new hangout spot of college students,” Lindholm said. “That’s when [I asked him] if he would be interested in making a deal with me if I were to do all the renovations.”
Martinez said that if Lindholm put
Cheesy Bob Grilled Cheese where El Pollito Loco used to be, he would help him out.
Since acquiring the building, Lindholm has taken El Pollito Loco’s setup and put his own personal spin on it from the weird, colorful car parked outside the restaurant to the cheese grater lights hanging above the countertop.
“The Escape Room has a lot to do with designing [Cheesy Bob Grilled Cheese],” Lindholm said. “[Using what I learned from the Escape Room] has allowed me to use that creativity to build not only a food recipe, but also décor, ambiance and environment.”
It is apparent that almost every bit of décor holds significance to Lindholm. There is surf board leaning against the wall recalling his father’s surfing days from when they lived in California, and skateboards from when his mother wore a helmet and elbow pads. In addition to this, he also had close friends and family sign the wall above the counter top as memorabilia.
Lindholm said his goal was to create an authentic, funky joint that meets SoHo, New York and Grandma’s kitchen.
“It took me five and a half months [to finish designing Cheesy Bob Grilled Cheese],” Lindholm said. “I’ve painted and [crafted] everything in the restaurant from recipes to walls to tables to bar stools to graphics. I’ve done every bit 100% by myself. I’m not trying to say that I don’t need other people, but I’m trying to get across is my mind doesn’t turn off.”
Since opening in late November 2019, business has been growing. Unlike other restaurants that get a spike in business and then start to decline until it hits a plateau, Cheesy Bob Grilled Cheese seems to have a reverse curve.
“I believe firmly in my delivery being consistent so that’s why we did the five hours a day,” Lindholm said. “It enabled us to open, produce our product and then close and have plenty of time to redo, tweak it and switch things up. So online, we’ve consistently been growing because word of mouth is quality and consistency seems to be happening.”
On top of their consistency, Lindholm said that people come to
Cheesy Bob Grilled Cheese because they simply love grilled cheese sandwiches.
“[Grilled cheese] is the ultimate comfort food of what [people] remember when they were children,” Lindholm said. “I grew up eating grilled cheeses when there was not a whole lot in the pantry or if I needed something quick and easy.”
He said any time he has asked someone if they liked a grilled cheese, many of the answers are yes.
Jeron Albrets, UNA student and Cheesy Bob Grilled Cheese employee, is also on the grilled cheese bandwagon.
“I like grilled cheese,” Albrets said. “I think people also like them just because it’s a break from the normal stuff. It’s simple, good and we’ve got a couple of options to choose from, so it helps to give a pause from the regular restaurant items. [It’s] kind of like why Chicago Cafe does so well, it’s simple, it’s fast and it’s good.”
The only things that prevent someone from enjoying the gourmet cheese sandwiches are being allergic to gluten, being lactose intolerant or being vegan.
“I’m working on creating dairy-free and gluten free options, and blowing everybody’s minds,” Lindholm said.
Still, everything goes back to catering to his alma mater and UNA students.
Although Lindholm is not on board to participate in Mane Benefits, which is the official discount program of the university, he is searching for other means to aid students.
“[Instead] what if we went together and pitched to the dean and to the financial departments and allowed dining dollars to be used off-campus?” Lindholm suggested. “That would be more beneficial. All of the students would be [able to] swap their [Mane Card] at Cheesy Bob’s and it debit their dining dollar account directly. Every [other] college around does it.”
Lindholm said he feels like UNA should give students the option of using their dining dollars however they choose because even though the university does have a variety of food options, buildings, such as the commons, close after a certain time so that students cannot get food at night.
“I’m a local guy, I’m an Alumnus and I’m very passionate about UNA, about this area,” Lindholm said. “More than anything, I want Seven Points to revamp itself and it be the cool, funky spot with multiple places that UNA can enjoy.”
Opening Cheesy Bob Grilled Cheese has been personal, but also has served as a learning experience to Lindholm. He recalled washing dishes and cleaning toilets at a ponderosa buffet when he was a teenager.
“It was awful, so I get what it takes,” Lindholm said. “That’s why I wash dishes at night for my guys if they’re working hard. I’ll mop these floors, take the trash out, and scrub the toilets.”
He said he does not look at himself as anything other than one of them. Anything that he asks his crew members to do, he does as well.
“I usually clock 80-100 hours a week between [the Escape Room and Cheesy Bob’s Grilled Cheese] but it doesn’t feel like work when you’re Peter Pan,” Lindholm said.