SAN FRANCISCO — A new fast casual restaurant chain specializing in grilled cheese sandwiches has attracted a flurry of national media attention. Coverage of The Melt, a restaurant concept focused principally on grilled cheese sandwiches, was prompted not by the chain’s menu but because of its founder, Jonathan Kaplan.

News stories on media outlets, including CNN, CNBC and National Public Radio highlighted Mr. Kaplan’s shift to the restaurant business from the world of high-tech. The coverage has given attention to Mr. Kaplan’s plans to open as many as 500 outlets of The Melt over the next few years. The first restaurant opened last week in San Francisco.

Mr. Kaplan is credited with helping revolutionize home video by marketing Flip Video, low-cost, pocket-sized video cameras. He sold his business, Pure Digital Inc., to Cisco Systems Inc. in 2009 for $590 million. He was a vice-president of Cisco until February of this year. He left when Cisco decided to drop the Flip Video business.
Rachel Metz, a San Francisco journalist covering the story, said Mr. Kaplan had toyed with the idea of a grilled cheese chain before establishing Pure Digital.

Mr. Kaplan was put off by concerns about the inability of restaurant employees to consistently turn out a quality grilled cheese sandwich. She said he believes he has overcome this hurdle by partnering with Swedish appliance maker Electrolux to develop “a special contraption that would create uniform grilled cheese sandwiches.”

“They came up with a machine that combines two induction burners, a microwave and non-stick pads, which allow the bread to toast while the cheese melts — without squishing the sandwich as a panini press might do,” Ms. Metz wrote.

According to the company, the equipment “balances two specialized tasks — carefully toasting the crust while gently melting the cheese. Melts are then finished with an exclusive seasoning.”

In addition to offering a traditional grilled cheese, variations include gruyere on white bread and smoked gouda on multi-grain.

Three more locations of The Melt are to begin serving customers by the end of December. Two will be in San Francisco and the third in Palo Alto, Calif. Plans call for 25 to 50 more restaurant openings in 2012 with a five-year target of 500.

Mr. Kaplan has received funding from Sequoia Capital to develop and roll out the new restaurant concept.
According to The Melt, the restaurants “blend gourmet taste into everyday classics with irresistible grilled cheese sandwiches, seasonally fresh soups, and delightfully balanced combos. The Melt uniquely leverages the power of technology to provide its guests the ultimate flexibility for ordering and picking up made-to-order meals.”

A high tech touch also will be employed in how customers buy and pay for their sandwiches.

The company said it will use mobile technology to allow customers to remotely place their order from a computer or mobile phone and pick up their food, “always hot and ready, anytime.”

“When ordered via the mobile application, the customer will receive a QR code (quick response code) on their smartphone that can be scanned at any restaurant location, allowing them to pay through their phones, skip the line, and pick up their freshly made order within minutes,” the company said.

The Melt is not the only grilled cheese restaurant chain established in recent years. In Cleveland, Melt Bar & Grilled was established in 2006 and operates at three locations. Even in San Francisco, a restaurant named Melt features tuna melts, grilled Panini and focaccia sandwiches.