Tales From The Street: Morty & Bob's
By Laura Martin
When we arrive at Morty & Bob's grilled cheese sandwich street food stall on a particularly sunny Saturday afternoon, there's a problem. They've sold out. A bit of a bummer for us, but a testament to just how incredibly popular the hot pockets of cheesy goodness are – there's apparently been a non-stop queue all day. Damn those early risers.
M&B's is the brainchild of Charlie Phillips and Jesse Bliss, who - after meeting while working in TV production - realised two things. One, that they rather liked each other, y'know. Two, they really, really liked grilled cheese sandwiches. Jesse says: “We bonded over our mutual love of food. We were wanting to get out of the TV industry and had an appreciation for food and grilled cheese.” Charlie adds: “I think we had a dream of having a street stall and a food business. I used to be a chef, then I got in to food production for TV. I'm just a food addict. We had an idea of opening up a British diner and we wanted to test it out on the market scene, with the idea of taking it to a festival. But we obviously couldn't do a whole diner menu in a street food market so we chose one off our of menu, which is grilled cheese, which we really love.”
In 2013 after thinking about what was lacking in the street food scene and on the festival food scene, they settled on, yep, grilled cheese sandwiches. Jesse says: “There's lots of other popular things like burgers, but we wanted to offer something similar and satisfying and that could be taken to a festival but isn't being done.” And nostalgia plays a bit part in their signature dish – who doesn't love eaten something comforting they'd eaten as a child? Jesse adds: “We say we're turning a childhood classic into a street food favourite. It is a familiar, comforting thing – my mum used to make it for me when I was young and I still have an obsession with Croque Monsieurs."
Next up for the duo was how to make The Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich: Ever. Somewhat unsurprisingly, there was a great deal of research before they settled on their hallowed 'wich. Charlie says: “Our whole thing was that we wanted it to be more than a cheese toastie, which is why we called it a grilled cheese sandwich. I think people think a lot of thought, there can't be much going into a cheese sandwich, but there's a real science behind it. We went through quite an extensive cheese search and we went through loads of days at Neal's Yard Dairy trying bits and bobs. It was basically up there with one of the best days ever. It took us a few weeks and about 30 or 40 sandwiches to get it right because when you start to melt cheese, the consistency changes and the flavour changes, but finally we settled on our three-cheese mix.” For those that are curious, that would be Lancashire Poacher, Cheddar Curd and Montgomery Cheddar, melting, tangy and oozy, topped with a sharp mix of spring onions, red onions and shallots and encased with a buttery, perfectly crispy toasted sourdough. Drooling yet?
In September of 2013, Charlie and Jesse unleashed Morty & Bob's – named after Charlie's granddads – on a humble trestle table in Netil House Market. Charlie says: “We were very unorganised, we were actually trying to run two stalls at once, as we'd just got back from India with some stuff we were selling. But we sold 42 sandwiches on that day. We were like “this is good” and people were saying it was a great idea. We knew it was unique but I didn't expect it to be quite as successful.”
“We thought that maybe because we were something new that week that's why we sold out,” adds Jesse, “but people came back again the next weekend. We did it for about a month just trading from the trestle table and selling out every single week. At that point we realised we might be on to something. The staff at the market kept coming back too. Then this spot in the market became available.”
Thanks to their handy builder friend, Dash, they managed to knock up a nifty wooden hut made from reclaimed wood to house the operation. Then they got buttering bread and watched the crowds gather. Charlie says: “We sell about anything from 60 to 80 or 90 a day. A couple of busy days have taken us to 100. We have a lot of regular now who come back every week – we're on first name terms with them. This summer we're going to Secret Garden Party, Green Man and a bunch of other festivals and also Hyde Park festival – which is going to be totally off the scale, we don't know what to expect there. But we're catering for a minimum of 3000 sandwiches per festival.”
And another Hackney favourite, Off Broadway bar, was quick to see the appeal of the sandwiches and offered them a month's residency during May 2014, just eight months after their opening day. Jesse says: “We actually sort of interupted a meeting Byron the owner was having and we introduced ourselves and he said: “What do you do?” and we said: “Grilled cheese” and he said, “Great, I love grilled cheese, you're in!”
And does the future see a more permanent home? Charlie says: “It's a long way off and we don't want to get ahead of ourselves, but we'd like an establishment in the area under the name of Morty & Bob's. The British diner we've talked about with grilled cheese sandwiches obviously on the menu, then we can branch out into other lines, we'd experiment with whole new things. We've got an extensive brunch menu as one of our original ideas was a brunch bar. Eggs, waffles, but always a real celebration of British and local food.”
Sounds just like the sort of place we'd love. Even if that meant getting up early and being first in line.