Gorilla Cheese

This is a great story on a couple of dimensions. First, it is yet another example of what is possible when you simply follow your passion and when you apply yourself with passion to an idea. In this case, Graeme Smith, a 42 year-old former Stelco employee attended culinary school when he was laid off two years ago and then developed the concept of Gorilla Cheese. He used the Gorilla Cheese concept in his major term assignment to develop the idea beyond a distant dream. He got 100 per cent on the project and his chef told him: “This is a great idea. If you don’t do it, I will.”

Second, is the importance of understanding how to leverage social media. Through the use of Facebook and Twitter, they have developed a following that tracks where the truck is headed next (for example they’ll be a Toronto’s Nuit Blanche festival).

Third is their choice of business model. Necessity is the mother of invention, and in this case they couldn’t afford a restaurant but instead converted an old delivery truck to use the food truck concept. This lowered their overhead, provided mobile signage and visibility, and had the advantage of reducing geographic risk (i.e. picking the wrong location).

The business was launched when his friend Scott Austin, who worked as a creative designer for The Hamilton Spectator, was also laid off last year. He approached Graeme about launching the concept.

Both Graeme and Scott knew the importance of branding and marketing. But they also did not have a lot of money. They created a logo, and spent less than $400 getting stickers made. That was the total of their marketing costs. Instead, using free social media tools and by distributing the stickers at events and on the streets, they created a following, with more than 1,000 fans on Facebook before they had even made a single sandwich.

The former Purolator truck that has been converted into a big, black mobile kitchen sporting their eye-catching logo makes stops all over Hamilton and at festivals and events. They post their schedules online and when they show up, they have a crowd waiting for them. Of course, their fans tweet and post pictures and comments which further increases the “buzz.”

“We knew the marketing had done well, but we also knew we had to back up the hype with a great product,” says Graeme. “It seems we’ve done that, because people are loving the sandwiches.”

In addition to the basic grilled cheese, called the O.G. (Original Gorilla), they also serve specialty sandwiches like the Gorilla Sarducci (featuring mozzarella, red onions, tomatoes, basil and balsamic glaze), and dessert sandwiches. They’ll soon be introducing side dishes, like soups and baked beans, all made from scratch.

With the help of their first employees, Susan Austin and Iain Kirkpatrick, they’re ready to take Gorilla Cheese to the next level. They’ll be getting a commercial kitchen and a second truck on the road.

This is a great story that should inspire those of you who have been forced to retrain and start new careers. The path from Stelco to grilled cheese may seem unorthodox, but the lesson here is that innovation can be born from passion. What’s your next big idea? What’s your passion?


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