Their mission is simple: serve delicious, affordable food that guests will want to return to day after day. And they do that, one gourmet grilled cheese at a time. They also exceed that "simple" mission statement with an unpretentious humility and confidence, an undeniable gift for visioneering, and in the championing of other local businesses (as they continue their own four, just sayin').
And, they do all of that, laughing.
Meet the couple behind Waco's very own Cheddar Box:
“When I was six I had a spiked mullet. It was pretty awesome. I have a photo of it if you want to see it,”
“Can you email it to me?” I asked.
“Yeah, it’s in my phone. I’m a kid, in a bathing suit, with a Blue Angel, but it’s pretty amazing. I’ve always been this way - literally, always - if I have an idea; I want to do it. So, my best friend back then, Bobby Tatum, was a boy. And it didn’t matter to me that he was a boy; I was like - I want your haircut. So, my sister and I both got spiked mullets when I was like seven.”
The same question passes to Omari: what’s something people probably don’t know about you?
“I have a few hobbies and the one I like the most is - I really like doing woodwork. I like to make things. I guess my most recent thing was building a bed in our home office; I built a Murphy bed. The kind that folds up so it’s just on the wall. I saw it in my mind and I wanted to make it so I just did it.”
His bright face perks up, about to prove that both of these two have a pretty good sense of humor, “People have slept in it and it hasn’t fallen apart!” He beams, “It’s pretty cool. I like it a lot.”
Their confidence sets them apart and yet, they are soooo clearly people people. If she has an idea, if he sees it in his mind and likes it, they’re gonna do it: these warm-hearted gems mean business.
THE STORY BEHIND CHEDDAR BOX
“Cheddar Box started at the Waco farmers market, once a week, out of a place of,” Abby pauses to think, “not restlessness, but more of a knowing that I was designed for certain things – people focus, hospitality focused, ideas, creation, that kind of thing.”
Abby was single at the time, working as a speech pathologist in a clinic she loved, with clients she loved, working for people she admired.
“But I also knew there was something I had in me since I was a little girl, to do business. Hospitality, food, and hosting were easier facets of business that I could see myself in and had some experience in.”
“I had started multiple businesses in my life. Not anything registered with any state, but I had a car-detailing business when I was 15, babysitting business where I truly marketed myself to people, jewelry business, design business. Oh! I cleaned houses for a while in college and in my early adult years.”
Abby had just tried another hand at Langa, “It was a kind of interior design business – I had repurposed things for that and that was fun because I love creating atmospheres but it still didn’t fit fully for what I was designed for. I was driving down the road and the name Cheddar Box popped into my head. I said – that sounds like a grilled cheese sandwich! I started talking to God about that -– what does that mean, what is Cheddar Box? In 2014, I started the stand at the farmers market and kept my full-time job for a year.”
“All of that came out of a place of me just praying, ‘God, I want to get into business but have zero clue what business to do.’”
WHAT WACO HAD TO OFFER: COLLABORATION
Abby began with a business partner (not Omari but hang tight for THAT story), “We did some research and it was great to see that Waco had such great artisans in our city. Like Brazos Valley Cheese, they do the majority of our cheese and they age it in an underground cheese cave. They’ve spent a lot of time developing their business and their product and their customer service is off the charts. Then, breads from Artisan Oven + Baked Bliss, Kim Cutler – just really great people. I joke about being a casserole person. I’m not the best cook but I am good at finding things that taste good and putting them together.”
She laughs, “God gave me a good palate to taste good cheese! I loved just seeing what Waco had to offer so we put those pieces together.”
In September 2015, Cheddar Box catered a Fixer Upper reveal for one of Abby’s friends and she had a conversation with Chip and Joanna who wanted to know, “Are you going to open a food truck? What's the next step you need to get you there?”
In the past, when asked those questions, she was not about it, “Food truck!? NO. It's so high maintenance for such a small thing! No!”
Chip even jokingly offered their Airstream – Abby smiled remembering, “The Airstream wasn’t a real offer but it made me take it seriously.”
“And here we are today,” she laughed, “I started looking for food trucks.”
When Abby got the official offer from Magnolia, she talked with her bosses who told her she couldn’t pass this up.
“We put a little bit of cosmetic work into the truck. I quit my job and opened the food truck in October of 2015.”
Okay, that’s definitely not how she told the story, but we gotta get to the good (better than grilled cheese!?) stuff. Yes, there was a conversation with the health department about how it would be nearly impossible to open the truck a little over a month, in time for Silobration, Magnolia Market’s big fall event. And yes, she and her team overcame those odds and opened the day before. There was also talk of the bright red, previously-taqueria truck covered in bulb lights being pulled on a slant from Baytown back to Waco and in doing so, an inebriated man asking if Abby and friend Courtney were in the circus. (Alas, they were not.)
The food truck was and is a smashing success.
Once Omari hit the scene as (Spoiler alert! Husband! :)) problem solver extraordinaire, Drink came along because, Abby recalls, "The truck didn't have space for refrigerated drinks. Customers would stand in line for 20 minutes, just for a cold drink. The team felt so horrible but couldn't exactly encourage cutting in line."
Omari found a solution, plus. Drink opened in June of 2017, sitting right next to Cheddar Box on the Magnolia grounds.
"It gave me something to contribute. I'm really good about finding my place within a team. We just kind of figured it out, how much ice do we buy every day, and so on. It made me feel really good to be a part of what she's already done."
ON LOCAL, FUTURE PLANS
The Heads have been thinkin’ about local. While they’ve had a front-row seat to Cheddar Box’s warm welcome among those visiting Magnolia, the couple plans to stretch out their cheese.
Franklin Avenue Mac House will be a spin-off of Cheddar Box. The menu items focus on their mac ‘n cheese (which the Heads refer to as their darling child) with some grilled cheese sandwiches.
“Mac House’s location is strategic: it’s not downtown. It’s on Franklin. People travel to and from to get to other parts of Waco or come downtown to work or come through for other things, but we intentionally put it in a place so it’s more accessible to our local clientele. Will we get visitors from out of state or out of town? It’s possible, yeah. We want everyone to have the opportunity to experience the local businesses.”
Omari and Abby are also opening a late-night, donut shop (with a name that rivals Cheddar Box on the clever meter: Well Rounded). It’s an actual location with a vintage soda shop feel.
“We wanted to create an opportunity for people to have a late-night dessert option,” she pauses, “by way of customizable mini dessert donuts. We chose donut holes because – obvi – better icing to donut ratio.” (We’re glad she’s thinkin', right?!)
“I get excited about people coming in to create their own dessert – but not in a frozen yogurt kind of way, which has its place and it’s awesome. In more of a, you’re creating this made-to-order, warm, fresh dessert that just happens to be piled up on a mini-mound of donut holes. They’re easy to share, you can eat them with a fork, it can be different every time you come in....I like the concept of not boxing people into their own dessert menu. Go wild with your thoughts! Try it! And maybe next time they won't mix those same things together. I want to help them create their own culinary experience.”
Again, the Heads are hoping to serve Wacoans, planting Well Rounded in the middle of Castle Heights in the Uptown area, “That street’s a good connector between one place to another. It connects Austin Avenue and Washington Avenue.” 108 N. 25th Street, to be exact. In the old “What About Cupcakes” space.
As for Cheddar Box, don’t go without!
“We have Wacotown Wednesdays every week. That means if you’re from Waco, go to Baylor, live here, you get a 5$ mac ‘n cheese or sandwiches all day long because,” her voice is one of a woman who wants all things for all people, not for her own gain, but because she’s a hostess at heart, “we love this city and we want you to come.”
Taker her up on the gourmet gorgeousness that is The Boss (bacon, gouda, and basil on sourdough) or try a Wacoan (aged white cheddar and horseradish pecan cheddar on sourdough).
The adorable couple has named their business “Head Hospitality,” the umbrella for all the businesses we will eat our way through. “We just have vision to keep growing all the things. All hospitality-driven businesses.”
I try to read them, “Do you think Waco’s home for life?”
Abby answers, “I don't have any desire to leave. I like this place.”
Omari does too, “I love this place...It’s a great city.”
“It is,” she agrees. “This is where we both discovered ourselves and what’s important to us and what’s not, who were made to be, our strengths, our weaknesses. Anytime you’re in that kind of place, you’ll always feel connected to it. I think we both have individually thrived here and are currently thriving so,” she shrugs and smiles, “Why would you mess up a good thing?”
A GOOD THING
We seriously don’t want you to miss the tasty wow of Cheddar Box. Find it aged to perfection on the Towny app (for free) and take advantage of the (also free) perks you’re going to find there...here. Don’t wait!
You thought I forgot the Omari + Abby story, didn’t you? Wouldn't leave you hanging like that...
Omari and Abby met at then Abby's food truck. Omari was a college pastor at a nearby church. One of his college students, Brittany, had gone on to work for Abby. In seeing him at church, Brittany informed Omari that while she was driving, God put him and her boss (Abby) on her mind.
Trusting the proven track record and honest character of his former student, Omari took a trip to the food truck, where Brittany and Abby were working. Abby was deep in the trenches of starting a business when Brittany whispered, "Pay attention to the second guy in line."
Abby turned on the hospitality and was over-the-top nice to Omari. He walked away feeling really good about the interaction, whereas Abby thought she was playing wingman to Brittany's crush (on Omari)(that didn't exist)!
Brittany encouraged Omari to ask Abby out and he did. They were married a year and two months later.
Through Omari's whole life, he has wanted a food truck, but never understood how this dream would be, could be fulfilled as a college pastor and worship leader. Abby hates driving the (non-circus) trailer. Omari's really good at trailer driving. Abby would rather dream and "do" than solve problems. Omari is a natural-born problem solver. They each wanted someone who they could sing with; they are both very gifted singers! The list goes on and on, deeming the two, truly a match made in Cheddar Gorge.
Download Towny and when you visit Cheddar Box with your free in-app deals, ask Abby + Omari if I left anything out ;)