Since Dave Danhi entered the 2009 Los Angeles Grilled Cheese Invitational to introduce his “Cheesy Mac” to the masses, he created and then quthe Grilled Cheese Truck into a staple around town for all Angelenos to enjoy. Wanting to understand how he took this American comfort food out of the kitchen and on wheels, we stopped by to talk to him to get the low down on the how he started, where his sandwich ideas come from, and some special inside surprises on where the Grilled Cheese Truck is heading. Get cheesy with it, folks:
LA CANVAS: How did the Grilled Cheese Truck come together? We’d like to know about the humble beginnings.
DAVE DANHI: The very long story short: I was working in fine dining for years and I had back surgery, so I got out of cooking and I didn’t have an outlet. I was told about this grilled cheese invitational but I don’t usually compete, I don’t need trophies, but for some weird reason I decided to go do it and there were so many people there. I found out there was a huge fanatical subculture for the grilled cheese sandwich. There was an organic truck outside that wasn’t going to work, wasn’t a good mobile version for creating grilled cheese. So I went for it. I researched—a lot—and started the grilled cheese truck. Now, here we are.
LAC: What makes your grilled cheese sicker than your average?
DD: Well, everything we do is made from scratch. We smoke our own pork, so the standards I have are the same as with my fine dining restaurants. A lot of my trucks have a culinary force behind them. Also, a lot goes into the sandwiches. We higher quality than other trucks plus its a grilled cheese, its epitome of comfort food.
LAC: What is your most sought after sandwich?
DD: The “Cheesy Mac and Rib” that consists of pulled bbq pork which we rub and marinate in house for a full day and then smoke for at least seven hours the next day, homemade Southern mac & cheese, caramelized onions and cheddar. The recipe evolved over 20 years and over time it become even better. There’s a lot of history and love behind that sandwich…
LAC: What are some of your favorite events you’ve catered in LA?
DD: We love doing First Fridays in Venice. It was one of the first events we did so it was like our coming out party. We’ve done the Vegan Beer Fest which is a little tricky since our dishes are based around cheese. We get asked for gluten free and vegan and with a grilled cheese that’s hard to do. We have to transform
everything on the truck into vegan only for the event. Also, Ladies Night Out Burbank, First Thursdays in San Padros. It’s hard to say which one is your favorite, it’s like asking who’s your favorite child.
LAC: When developing a new sandwich, what’s your inventive process like, and what do you consider before putting a new sandwich on the menu?
DD: Our menu changes with the seasons. We try to keep with what products are in season and change around the cheeses. Sandwich ingredients are based around the main focus—the cheese. If we pick brie as the base then the rest of the ingredients will be wrapped around that particular cheese. I want to have fun with the food, but I also have to keep it fresh and new! I’ll come up with ideas while stuck in traffic. I’ll turn the radio off and think of cheese profiles. It just happens sometimes. Also, I like to reach out via social media and ask our fans what they want. We didn’t have goat cheese for the first two years, and the first time I asked, a whole bunch of people answered that they wanted goat cheese—and now we have the Goat Cheese Melt! I want to keep them involved and like to take advantage of our fandom.
LAC: Any fun and exciting Grilled Cheese Truck stories from the road?
DD: One of my favorites was cutting sandwiches into hearts for one of our customers so he can propose to his girlfriend. She was very surprised. The first grilled cheese invitational we went to with the truck, kids… haha.. these “kids” were in their 20s but that’s kids to me now! And they were screaming “Grilled Cheese Truck!” the entire time we were there. Another funny thing that happened was a friend sent me a picture on Halloween and a fan had made a Grilled Cheese Truck costume. That’s when I knew we had become a part of pop culture.
LAC: What’s on the Grilled Cheese Trucks horizons?
DD: Well actually we will be transforming the truck into solid brick and mortar soon, extending truck from to an actual restaurant in Los Angeles. I feel like if we opened up anywhere else fans would be upset. We will also be starting to have trucks on Veteran and Army bases by the end of June.