Trew Quackenbush and Corey Ward founded Tom & Chee as a gourmet grilled cheese shop in a tent in downtown Cincinnati. Trew is a self-taught cook and Corey grew up behind the grill at his parents’ ice cream shop. The two wanted to serve comfort food, tomato soup and grilled cheese, in a casual dining environment. The lines wound round the block for the 10–15 varieties of grilled cheese (half a sandwich, full sandwich, or double-decker) plus a build-your-own option and their signature grilled cheese doughnut. By the time they appeared on Shark Tank, Trew and Corey had five locations and wanted to expand their cheesy empire.
Barbara and Mark invested $300,000 each, but Mark dropped out and Barbara renegotiated her deal. After the show aired, they had 9,000 inquiries about franchises. Soon, there were 35 stores, and Tom & Chee was named by Forbes as one of the Shark Tank’s most successful businesses.
They appeared on Shark Tank Updates doing great with Barbara happily helping serve at a new restaurant. Then the bubble burst. Employees were laid off, stores were closed, vendors were suing for payment. Best guess: They kept adding on larger and larger stores that turned out to be novelties and did not keep the diners coming back.
Trew, Corey and Barbara likely made out really well in the end, because Gold Star Chili bought the business for an undisclosed figure. They made the décor more sophisticated, expanded the menu into melts and salads, and cut down the time it took to make a sandwich, from 5 minutes to 90 seconds. They kept the “tomandchee” website and seem to be thriving.