In a sense, Emily Frank is living vicariously through her food truck. In reality, she is living.
It took years of working in the corporate world for her to realize that it was not the life she wanted. Gone would be her days of workaholism. Frank decided to leave Chicago to return to Cincinnati and start, from the ground up, some sort of food business. "I really wanted to work for myself and do something that I love," Frank says.
And voila: C'est Cheese is born.
C'est Cheese, pronounced "say cheese" (but it's OK if you never get it right — few do), is a gourmet grilled cheese food truck. A year in the making but only really a couple weeks old, C'est Cheese hit Cincinnati's ground running. "Things are going freakishly well," Frank says.
Calling herself a "list person," Frank has a calendar ridden with handwritten to dos: on Wednesday they have this; on Saturday they have that. She's been at Night Owl Market during Final Friday and is scheduled to serve at Cincy Brew Ha-Ha. She'll cater your wedding and name a sandwich after you. At this rate, it's hard to believe that C'est Cheese is still so new to the city's food scene. What is this, some kind of Skyline? (No, it's much, much better.)
Frank has had a lot of practice, though. In Chicago, she owned a small, health-conscious catering business. She also gives most of her credit to Bad Girl Ventures, an educational and inspirational program for women who are looking to start their own business. For 10 weeks she was in a "business bootcamp," so to speak, where she and about 100 other women competed for a $25,000 loan.
"I did not win that," Frank says, laughing. "But the experience was tremendous. The doors it opened, the people I met; it's such an amazing organization."
Having a business mentality that unveils subtly through her blithe demeanor, Frank knew to do her homework as well. She noticed the food truck trend happening in big cities, (in Cincinnati alone, there have been six new food trucks in the last year), so after searching left and right for the perfect kitchen vehicle, she finally came across one that would quickly be known as Blanche Devereaux (yes, the Golden Girl).
As far as grilled cheese goes, there was no tangible inspiration — only that there was an absence of it. That and it's nearly impossible to dissatisfy anyone with taste buds (and lactose tolerance) with grilled cheese. "I liked that with grilled cheese you can go as basic as American cheese on white or wheat bread or you can go crazy and it's loved by people of all ages — kids and adults — and I thought it would give me the most flexibility," Frank says.
Frank is one of those people who likes to coalesce her personal life with her professional. Around 20 sandwiches are currently on the menu, nearly all of which are named after someone or something important to her. For instance, the "Hot Nana" is named after her grandmother, and it consists of pimento cheese, American cheese, Sriracha hot sauce and a fried egg.
The "Bee Sting" is a crowd favorite and has Mozzarella cheese, pepperoni, basil-infused honey and chili flake butter in place of regular butter — flavors that are seemingly too different but somehow just work. That's gourmet for you. "A lot of it was trial and error," Frank says. "A lot of our Sunday family dinners have been grilled cheese."
C'est Cheese also has three different kinds of pickles — spicy dill, Asian infusion and Indian curry — and is working on incorporating tomato soup into the menu as well (naturally).
Undoubtedly, C'est Cheese has entered the realm of food trucks with full force, keeping up with the contemporary transformations of Cincinnati. But while there's usually an air of competition that flutters around trends, the food truck movement in this city proves to be nonstandard. Rather, they help one another out, promoting each other and working together like a community within a community. Frank calls it that "Midwestern kindness" — something she appreciates and makes running her business even more enjoyable.
Frank's eyes sparkle when it comes to thinking of the future, but despite all the quick success, she knows not to take herself too seriously. "In the grand scheme of things, as much as I would like to be curing cancer, I'm not. It's a grilled cheese sandwich, and at the end of the day, just have a really good freaking time," she says. "It's how I try to live my life."