07/24/2014 11:18AM ● Published by Melissa Mendonca
Photos: Michelle Smith
Mayhem Gourmet Grilled Cheese
Jeremy and Jennie Wolfe can embrace “what is.” As parents of a finicky eater, they found themselves playing around with grilled cheese recipes when their middle child went through a stage of eating nothing else.
Looking for a new revenue stream and a business that would allow them the freedom and creativity they desired, the couple did their research and spun their grilled cheese skills into a food truck business. As they started conjuring names, they took pause to look around their house—a baby, a toddler and a teen heading into adulthood.
“It’s always so loud and chaotic in here that we thought, ‘Let’s call it Mayhem,’” laughs Jennie.
They embraced what was, created a logo with a roller derby diva on a bomb and started grilling their way into the hearts of the Chico community, one cheese sandwich at a time.
The Mayhem truck opened November 27, 2012, after six months of renovation and one summer of the couple slinging grilled cheese from a tent booth at Chico's Thursday night market. The truck, onceused to sell tortillas, was found in an orchard and purchased for a song—but needed extensive (and expensive) work, which Jeremy did himself.
On opening day, they pulled up near the Senator Theatre when a show was going on, having used the last $80 of their project budget to buy food. It was pouring rain and they didn’t have an awning. It didn’t matter. The customers came. One of the first called a news station, which came out the next day for an interview. It turned out that people love Mayhem.
“We just turned that 80 bucks into what it is,” says Jeremy. “That’s an entrepreneur at heart. We aren’t afraid to take risks. Without risks there are no rewards.”
The Mayhem experience is about elevating a familiar comfort food to gourmet status. It’s a hot gooey middle encased by crispy, crunchy sourdough that’s been double cheesed. It’s a combination like the Motza—mozzarella, tomato, avocado and fresh basil—or a grilled cheese with bacon and house-made maple chipotle jelly.
“It’s not an original idea, but we’ve made it our own” says Jeremy of the Mayhem sandwich concept. “It’s twice cooked. We cheese the outside.”
It's also an experience where you’re treated to Jennie’s hospitality while Jeremy is in the back grilling. She takes orders by names, not numbers, and strives to make a connection to their customers. “We want you to know that we see you as a person, not a dollar sign,” says Jeremy.
Although the Mayhem truck has an edgy look with its black paint job and bomber logo, Jeremy says, “We keep that thing really, really tight all the time. We are a good, clean, family-friendly truck.” Indeed, the youngest two are often in the truck in their own play area while mom and dad are working.
For Jeremy and Jennie, Mayhem is an opportunity to connect the community through food, and it’s one they take seriously. They’ve been known to “bomb drop” sandwiches for people in need, and even made a surprise home delivery to a very sick customer who had posted on Facebook that she was craving a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup.
Jeremy has also become an advocate in regards to city regulations and helping other food trucks get started. He encourages cooperation and courtesy amongst the food truck owners. No parking in front of restaurants, for example.
“We encourage more trucks,” says Jeremy, with an air of collaboration. Events such as Chico’s Fork in the Road gatherings have become popular for friends to sample and share food from a variety of trucks. The more trucks, the greater the likelihood people will attend.
The success of the food truck movement is due largely to social media outlets that advertise truck locations and special events. “It’s amazing that we just started this on a Facebook page,” says Jeremy. The truck now has its own smart phone app that keeps patrons updated on locations, menu items and specials.
Reflecting on the success of the truck, Jennie says, “There are a lot of people who just love cheese.”
True that. But the cheese tastes better when it's served with a little Mayhem.