Success stories in Cleveland have been far and few between in the past few decades.
Many young people who would normally help regenerate the region have taken their talents elsewhere.
Too often, the allure of bright lights and big cities has left the North Coast in a constant rebuilding mode.
The old saying goes that it takes a village to raise a child, but Matt Fish believes that in Cleveland’s case, the children are the ones who will raise the village back to glory.
“It’s not a difficult town to succeed in if you grind and put your mind to it,” Fish, the founder of Melt Bar and Grilled said in a phone interview.
“The city is bouncing back because of people who have chosen to stay here, and that’s how we’ll advance this town.”
It isn’t difficult to notice the instantly recognizable Fish, and it isn’t only because of his love for tattoos.
You recognize him because of his passion and enthusiasm for what he does and the area he grew up in, whether it is during an appearance on the Food Network, at the restaurants, or through the phone.
Fish’s dream began as a young man growing up in the Cleveland suburb of Parma, where he found his love for cooking while working at a small pizzeria.
“It made me appreciate what food can do and what it can mean,” Fish said. “I learned the importance of fresh ingredients and care in every dish you make.”
The dream continued as Fish moved out west into Lakewood and opened up the first Melt Bar and Grilled in November 2006.
Soon, he would be putting his experience at Cleveland restaurants such as Johnny Mango’s and Fat Fish Blue to good use, as Melt quickly expanded to a Cleveland Heights location as well.
A third Independence location is planned for fall of this year, and Fish hopes to expand to the Akron area soon after.
“Whether we have 100 units or ten, we will continue to do it the way we always have. “
The “way they do it” defies description. When you open the menu at Melt, a world of grilled cheese possibilities stares you in the face.
Whether it is the pierogi and kraut filled “Parmageddon” or Fish’s personal favorite, the lasagna-stuffed “Godfather,” the choices are staggering.
The spectrum ranges from the basic “Kindergartner” to favorites including blackened chicken, prime rib and chorizo.
Each sandwich comes with a large portion of fries, pickles, and cole slaw. While the emphasis is sandwiches, Melt also offers burgers, desserts, and over 150 beers.
Calling the restaurants’ interior eccentric would be an understatement. Cleveland memorabilia and figurines cover the walls.
It’s the perfect canvas for a native Clevelander trying to share his culinary visions with a world willing to wait two hours to do so.
Even though he has found recent fame, Fish recognizes the need to stay humble and down-to-earth, especially when dealing with the people around him.
Fish calls his workers and frequent customers the “Melt family,” wherein “once you join, you’re a member forever.”
It is this commitment to putting a twist on the simple joys in life that have made Fish a local celebrity and put Melt Bar and Grilled on the national radar.