I came to the Valley from New Jersey 4 years ago. I love the Valley and intend to stay here. The JMU Newspaper recently described me as running the truck with Southern Hospitality and a splash of in your face sassiness. In Harrisonburg I am known as “The Grilled Cheese Lady”. My daughter, Emily, says, “I am Grilled Cheese Mania”
I grew up in New Jersey and worked at my family’s IGA Supermarket since I was 14. Before that I loved going to work with my dad and everyone called me “Mike’s kid” I was always so proud because everyone adored my father. My dad was an entrepreneur with a positive attitude, his employees loved him. With his awesome example I do the same for my team. I know I can not do what I am doing without the amazing people God has put in my life.
My Mom, Mama Mania, as she was always called was also a great example of a loving giving woman. She showed her love through food. Boy did she love to cook for us and our friends. Our house was the place to be. I loved growing up in an Italian household and cooking at my mom’s side.
Yes… the apple did not fall from the tree. I am such a combination of both my parents.
My daughter, Emily, wanted me to come to Virginia. She kept telling me I would love it here. My mom said, “ you have one daughter and she wants you …go! I prayed about it and one morning woke up with complete peace… I was going to Virginia. My mom was happy and Emily was happy.
THE STORY OF GCM
How did you come up with the idea for “Grilled Cheese Mania?”
It was not my idea actually. It was my daughter, Emily and my friend, Ben who came up with the grilled cheese and soup idea.
Why a food truck and not a restaurant?
Ben was in favor of starting a food truck. He felt it would be different, fun and a lot less overhead.
When did this idea come to you?
I was working another job and really was very unhappy and stifled. I wanted to start a business of my own a deli. That is where I have experience. My husband and I owned an Italian Deli in New Jersey for 13 years. I wrote up a whole business plan and prayed and thought about it. I had no peace to move forward with this idea so I packed it away. After many conversations, thought and prayer March 17, 2012 Ben and I shook hands and decided to be partners. A grilled cheese truck would come to HBurg. Later my daughter, Emily signed on to be the third partner in GCM. Emily and Ben are the brains behind GCM I am the face of GCM, I work I cook I love my people.
How long has Grilled Cheese Mania been in Harrisonburg?
We opened the window at our first location at 1321 South High Street Harrisonburg, Va on October 15, 2012. Our second location at 120 W Wolfe Street Harrisonburg, Va opened August 2014. We have been embraced by the community from day one. I am so very grateful.
How did you come up with the names for your food and drink items?
First let me tell you my name is Kathleen Mania-Casey. My maiden name is Mania. When taking a class at SBDC (Small Business Development Center) I spoke to a marketing expert and he was the one to suggest Grilled Cheese Mania. We loved it!
The Classic Johnny is named after my oldest brother Johnny
The Larold ( pronounced Harold with an L) is named after my nephew Larry. When he was little all he ate was crispy bacon and his nickname was and is Larold. My daughter, Emily said,” Ma, we need a grilled cheese named after Larry and it need crispy bacon in it. And so… the LAROLD was born.
The Triple Lindy is named after my sister Linda. Emily always called her Lindy, there is a blend of 3 cheeses in it and we love the movie with Rodney Dangerfield, Back to School. In it he does this dive it is called THE TRIPLE LINDY.
The Casey Snowcap was one of the most popular sandwiches in our deli and I hoped HBurg would love it. They do!!!! It is awesome to have it back again and it is named after my late husband, Gerard Casey.
The Mama Mania is named after my beautiful mom who has recently passed away. Our friends never called her Mrs. Mania she was always Mama Mania since I was a child when our friend Pete Manitakis gave her the nickname. She loved us and our friends dearly. Our friends were always welcome at our home and you could be sure she would cook for us all.
Cindy’s Sweet Tea, my sister Cindy, Mikey’s Mac & Cheese My brother , my dad,and nephews are all Michaels. Lulu’s Limeade is my Aunt Louise, Rosie’s Chili Mac is my Aunt Rosie. etc etc.
If you had to recommend one item or special, what would you suggest?
I can’t… I started with about 30 different grilled cheeses. Ben kept saying, “less, keep it simple”. This was not easy for me… I am MANIA don’t forget. My head was spinning with ideas. When I got to our 7 there was nothing more I could take away. They are all delicious, fresh and different. Whenever I bite into one I say, “this is my favorite”… until the next time:) Ben was right… as usual, simple is better:)
What is your busiest time of day?
Lunch time of course but we have been getting many families and groups of college students coming out for dinner too.
Do you have “regulars”? What do you think keeps them coming back?
Yes, we have many regulars everyday. I love knowing our customers by his and her names and welcoming them back. I would hope they come back because they love our food, we are affordable, we are consistent, they enjoy the GCM experience and also we always offer exceptional customer service. I have a been blessed with an amazing team of young men and women to work with.
Can you describe an “average” day at work?
We start early in the morning getting our soup, chili, mac and cheese prepped, we make tea and limeade. We only keep our tea for one day so it is always very fresh and delicious. We prepare for lunch getting our cheeses and breads ready, heat the grills up, open the window at 10:55 and smile:). We run all day cooking, serving, cleaning…If you think a food truck is not clean well then you have never been to GCM. Everyday everything gets scrubbed, and cleaned. Even the floors are washed each night. Every morning we start fresh and clean again. It makes for a nice work environment for all of us. And also a very safe place to eat. After the lunch rush we recap and start prepping again cutting peppers and onions, slicing tomatoes, chopping cheeses, restocking cups etc.
What really motivates you to come into work everyday?
I love my work whether I am at home answering emails, returning messages, placing orders, etc or when I am actually at the trailer cooking, cleaning, waiting on customers and friends. I truly want to be successful at my job and at life in general. I want to offer the best I can, be the best I can using the talents God has blessed me with. Bottom line is … the more successful I am the more people I can help. It is not all about the money for me but instead it is about what I can do with that money. How many jobs can I offer ? How many people can I employ? How many people can I help?
That motivates me tremendously!
I believe with faith in God, trust and a good positive attitude anything is possible.