Last week, I Heart Mac & Cheese opened its first South Carolina location in Columbia. The restaurant, which started franchising locations in 2017, is a build-your-own style establishment specializing in mac and cheese bowls and grilled cheeses which customers can add a variety of meats, vegetables and other toppings to.
The store had originally planned to open its doors last year, but plans were pushed back due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Columbia Franchisee Mita Patel was originally skeptical of a restaurant based entirely around mac and cheese but was eventually sold on opening the new Cola location from the taste of the food.
I Heart Mac & Cheese is open seven days a week from 11a.m. - 10.p.m and is located at 1033 Roberts Branch Pkwy Suite 202, Columbia, S.C.
In addition to being the first location in the state, the Columbia opening marked the unveiling of a new store redesign, Matthew Pappas, Director of Marketing, described the store as having “young” and “trendy” vibe.
The goal is for I Heart Mac & Cheese to be a place people think of for all types of events, from fundraisers to a meeting with friends.
I Heart Mac & Cheese has had fundraising partnerships with nearby schools in South Florida, and they plan to bring these practices to Columbia. Shametra McMillan, general manager of the Columbia store, said she is making an effort in hiring to give people work opportunities who otherwise might not normally get a chance.
The general food style is seeking to appeal to college students with quick and easy food being, good to take to class or reheat for leftovers.
The I Heart Mac & Cheese brand is still young and growing, with college students being a focus of its efforts to build relationships with consumers. To achieve this, Pappas said the company is using guerilla marketing tactics, such as street takeovers and showcases from food influencers.
“We were super excited just because one, we're close to the university, two, the community aspect,” said Pappas.
Beyond the college audience, I Heart Mac & Cheese wants to be a family destination.
“Our goal is that when you come in you feel like 'Hey, we can sit down, it's okay, our kids are gonna have fun, we can enjoy dinner or lunch' and then, you know, everybody's happy,” Patel said.
The opening hasn’t been without struggles. A busy workload and the task of training new staff arose, but Patel, who has over 20 years of experience in the industry, feels the store's goal is to improve every day and to ensure the best service possible is given to every customer that comes to the restaurant.
“We're just excited and we think the restaurant, of course, is going to be great success and we really are looking forward to the future,” Pappas finished.