The downtown St. Peterburg location of Fo’ Cheezy held its grand opening Friday night, much to the delight of a loyal fan base who swear by Chef Robert Hesse’s gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches.
By 5 p.m. Friday, a diverse group of about 20 men, women and children stood in a line on 3rd Street North in downtown St. Petersburg to be among the first to see the inside of Fo’ Cheezy’s new location. The family at the front of the line got there at 4 p.m., and several people made the trip from St. Pete Beach – the site of the first restaurant – to try out the newest iteration of what began as a food truck.
The new downtown storefront location for Fo’ Cheezy Twisted Meltz, which offers artisan-style, gourmet grilled cheese with a “street edge,” is the brainchild of co-founders Chef Craig Munroe and celebrity Chef Robert Hesse. Hesse is widely known for his two seasons spent on the hit cooking show, Hell’s Kitchen.
Hesse personally manned the grill on opening night, which stretched from 5 p.m. until 4 a.m. Located just around the block from Jannus Live and MacDintons, Hesse’s rich, gooey melts should be a popular treat for the late-night crowds.
Hesse briefly addressed the crowd before welcoming them inside, and in addition to stating what an honor the moment was, he made sure to note that 2% of all proceeds go to benefit Hesse’s charity – No Kid 86’ed. The term refers to an item no longer available in the restaurant industry.
“While we do good, we want to make sure others do good,” said Hesse.
Hesse said his team opened the second location due to the popularity of the food truck and the first location in St. Pete Beach and was also proud that his company “remained debt-free during Covid.”
Before walking through the doors, guests were treated to hip-hop and R & B from the 1980s and ’90s. The music sets the tone for the Fo’ Cheezy ambiance, as the concept is completely based upon that era of urban culture and the nostalgia it brings. Customers are greeted by a shiny, custom lowrider bicycle hanging from the ceiling as they walk into the dining area. Gold-spoked rims and tires and a model of a front bumper from a 1960’s impala adorn the wall above the menu board, a combination that any fan of west coast hip-hop is sure to recognize.
However, when it comes to interior decoration, the larger-than-life murals are the star of the show. Tampa Bay area muralist Matt Kress is the artist behind the portraits of rap icons such as Tupac, Biggie Smalls, Method Man and Slick Rick, among others. Kress reportedly spent about two months creating the murals, although the interior concept was discussed for around six.
Hesse envisions his artisan grilled cheese as a form of graffiti, and Kress captured that ideal in his artwork.
Fo’ Cheezy features 13 artisan melts featuring an innovative combination of fresh ingredients. For example, The “Mac N’ Rib” boasts sharp cheddar cheese, barbecue pulled pork shoulder, smoked bacon, Fo’ Cheezy macaroni and cheeses, crispy onions and honey drunk barbeque sauce. Fo’ Cheezy’s motto is “not yo mamas grilled cheese,” and the menu embodies that concept.
In addition to the melted sandwiches, Fo’ Cheezy also offers up artisan tater tots that also feature inventive ingredient combinations. There are also soups and salads, hand-spun shakes, and “sweet thangs,” or desserts.
A native of St. Petersburg, Hesse has spoken openly about his rough upbringing and pension for getting into trouble. Hesse credits the culinary arts for turning his life around – specifically chefs like the late Anthony Bourdain and Gordon Ramsey. Hesse was a fan-favorite during his two seasons on the hit T.V. show Hell’s Kitchen. Training under Chef Ramsey is an invaluable experience for an up-and-coming chef, and Hesse handed out free orders of Ramsey’s famous beef wellington to the first 50 people through the doors on opening night.
Hesse has also made multiple appearances on the Food Network, served as a private chef to several celebrities, and enjoyed a stint as an event chef at the Playboy Mansion. Hesse would then return to his hometown where he began to create gourmet grilled cheese with a street edge on the actual streets of St. Petersburg with his Fo’ Cheezy food truck.
Following the success of the food truck, Hesse opened the original Fo’ Cheezy location in Aug. 2020 in St. Pete Beach with the help of his business partner and fellow chef, Munroe.
According to its website, the Fo’ Cheezy philosophy is to “create true chef-inspired comfort food,” and “bring home-cooked classics to life in an all-new way. As an experience, not just a meal.”
The new restaurant is located at 111 3rd Street north in downtown St. Petersburg, and for more information on Fo’ Cheezy, visit its website here.