Eleven years ago, in the heyday of Portland’s food cart boom, Matt Breslow opened the Grilled Cheese Grill on NE Alberta. The cart had all the foundations of a 2009 Portland food cart: It balanced a simple concept with creative add-ons and twists. Grilled cheese sandwiches came pressed with jalapeños or crushed tortilla chips, swipes of olive tapenade, melted brie. The cart stacked its burger with two grilled cheese sandwiches in place of buns. Customers would eat in the converted school bus, a nod to the nostalgic nature of the cart and its menu.
In its prime, the Grilled Cheese Grill operated locations in Southeast Portland and downtown, with a catering business for weddings and events. But now, after a decade, the Grilled Cheese Grill will close for good.
As Willamette Week first reported, Grilled Cheese Grill’s permanent closure comes after an almost year-long hiatus: The cart shut down in March, at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Breslow had previously closed his other two carts — Southeast Portland closed in 2015, while the downtown location closed in 2019 — and the original Alberta location was the only one left standing. This week, Breslow decided to pull the plug altogether.
Breslow posted a lengthy explanation for his decision to close on Facebook Wednesday, talking through the history of the cart and the difficult choices made in the last year. In short, Breslow has a young kid who needed care in the midst of the pandemic, and he wanted to prioritize his family; his child’s daycare closed, and once it did reopen, the potential for spread within a preschool setting made the family nervous. “Some might say we were being overly cautious or scaredy-cats, but when you go through a 4 year long fertility journey that’s riddled with heartbreak, I guess you become a little extra risk-averse when thousands are dying by the day and no one really knows how little kids are affected,” the post reads. “So we said grilled cheese could wait, and we’d keep playing it safe.”
Simultaneously, Breslow was also facing a situation many local restaurant and food cart owners know well: The property that housed the final remaining Grilled Cheese Grill would be sold to a developer. Breslow was intimately familiar with this scenario; he was pushed out of his spot within the Alder Street food cart pod when it closed to make way for a Ritz-Carlton. So instead of reopening within his original location, just to move a year or two later, he decided to call it. “Insomuch as we’re another commercial victim of the virus, it is as much an opportunity to bow out with grace,” he writes.
He also alludes to the fact that the food service industry, in many cases, is incongruent or incompatible with a typical work-life balance. “I loved this business, but the truth is I love my family more,” he says. “The kid is gonna be in school again soon, and as he keeps having these damn yearly birthdays, I want to be able to spend time with him on his weekends... It’s become a trade-off I’m not willing to make anymore.”
Read the full announcement below: