The Melt brings its grilled cheese to Los Angeles

One of the Melt's classic grilled cheese offerings. (The Melt / December 3, 2012)

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The Melt, a young Bay Area grilled cheese chain with a Silicon Valley pedigree, is betting that health-conscious Angelenos will embrace its comfort-food offerings as it expands in Southern California this month.

On Dec. 15, the chain will launch in the heart of Hollywood at the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Vine Street. Visitors who find a special password on the company’s Facebook page will get a free sandwich and soup combination on opening day.

The Melt will open another eatery at Figueroa and 7th streets downtown on or before Dec. 15. Instead of food trucks, the Melt will start running two buses around Los Angeles to serve its food at roughly the same time.

The company caused a splash when it first launched last summer in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood.

Its creator, Jonathan Kaplan, made his name by founding the company that made the now-defunct Flip Video hand-held camcorder. Sequoia Capital, a major Silicon Valley venture capital firm on the famed Sand Hill Road, gave the Melt its financial backing.

Its origins in the technology world are evident in the Melt’s stores. Customers can place their orders online or via mobile apps, then skip the line in person by scanning a QR code when picking up their order.

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But Chief Marketing Officer Paul Coletta said the Melt "doesn’t want tech to be the focus of the customer experience."

"We’re not building a technology company here," he said.

To succeed in Southern California, the Melt has to set itself apart from native grilled cheese brands such as Campanile and the Grilled Cheese Truck. The company has a trendy eco-friendly ethos, with only compostable or recyclable packaging. Restaurateur Michael Mina is an advisor.

The Sunset and Vine store will seat 70 customers in its 1,800 square feet, slightly larger than the average Melt store. It will be the first store to serve breakfast all day.

Each store has 30 employees, on average, and costs roughly half a million dollars to build. By the end of the year, the Melt hopes to have 14 locations. Eventually, Coletta said, it plans to expand "to airports and zoos and everything in between."

"We wouldn’t come to a market if we didn’t think we could open 20 stores," Coletta said. "We’re small today, but we have national aspirations."

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