Cheese lovers, listen up: I Heart Mac & Cheese is coming to Gilbert.
The Florida-based fast-casual concept famous for its made-to-order, build-your-own macaroni and cheese bowls and customizable grilled sandwiches is expanding its footprint into the southwest with new restaurants in Peoria, Gilbert and Scottsdale next spring.
Franchisee James Maragh and his partner Tony Ortiz are excited to bring the I Heart Mac & Cheese experience to the Phoenix area.
“My three boys and little girl all love mac ‘n’ cheese and so does Tony’s little one,” Maragh said. “When I first came across this [franchise], I got on the phone with Tony and told him we have to go see this place firsthand. [We] booked the flight and showed up in Florida two weeks later. We were instantly blown away.”
Described by Maragh as “dishes parents will love and dishes the kids will for sure enjoy,” I Heart Mac & Cheese’s menu includes bowls in savory flavors, like lobster and white truffle, Cuban, baked chicken parmesan and others.
“Mac bites” come in kid-friendly flavors such as pepperoni pizza and buffalo chicken and there are even vegan options, like vegan grilled cheeses and bowls made with vegan cheeses and meatless substitutes.
“We did some secret shopping [and] asked customers for their thoughts and got nothing but great responses,” Maragh said.
“Teenagers were happy they were able to get creative with their old favorite snack and were enjoying BBQ chicken mac ‘n’ cheese bowls as well as pizza-style mac ‘n’ cheese bowls,” he continued.
“Adults were swinging in for a quick lunch bowl, and they were telling us they really enjoyed the healthy options, like the broccoli and cauliflower base with some delicious chicken as the protein.”
Maragh said they plan to customize the menu with one or two Arizona-inspired dishes.
“We know of other I Hearts having location-based bowls, like Texas with their Brisket Bowl, and we will work hard on creating our own,” he said.
So far, Maragh said he’s received nothing but positive feedback regarding I Heart Mac & Cheese’s expansion into Arizona.
“It’s different, and everyone likes to try something different,” he said. “It’s our job to make sure they come back. We’ll do that by making sure they have a great experience and food is coming out hot, fast, and right.”
While Maragh and Ortiz have yet to choose a location in Scottsdale, they do know they want it to be located near other family-friendly eateries and shops.
“We would love to be near a local favorite such as a Dutch Bros, Target, or Top Golf. So, if you are out with the family getting a coffee or picking up some goodies from the store, you’re able to swing on in for a delicious mac ‘n’ cheese bowl for the kiddos,” Maragh said.
Maragh and Ortiz currently live in Yuma, but Maragh and his family have plans to find their forever home in Gilbert.
“Our family is excited to soon be able to call this great city home for good,” Maragh said. “When I came across this new and exciting franchise and had the ability to bring it to the Phoenix area, I had to jump on board. Right now, I couldn’t be happier that this is becoming a reality.”
I Heart Mac & Cheese is a unique, low-investment franchise concept that requires zero fryers, grease-trap systems or hood systems.
“I Heart Mac & Cheese is a fun, attractive concept and an affordable franchise model that is easy to operate with support systems in place to help our partners be successful,” said Stephen Giordanella, I Heart Mac & Cheese CEO and chairman, in a prepared statement.
“We are thrilled to continue growing our brand with partners that share our same beliefs and value our innovative concept, food quality and diverse menu,” Giordanella continued.
Headquartered in south Florida, I Heart Mac & Cheese offers franchise owner training, marketing support and ongoing development opportunities to ensure each location’s success.
“James and I will both definitely be heavily involved in the business and the growth of our I Heart Mac & Cheese locations,” Ortiz said.
“We have a few bright manager candidates who are eager and ready for the opportunity to manage an I Heart Mac & Cheese location. We will also be hosting interviews for the first location,” he continued.
I Heart Mac & Cheese launched in 2016 and has since captured the attention – and stomachs – of cheese lovers nationwide.
It was recently featured on QSR Magazine’s “40/40 List for 2020: America’s Hottest Startup Fast Casuals.”
Additional locations are slated to open in Alabama, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina and Texas.
“Get ready AZ family,” Maragh said, “I Heart Mac & Cheese is coming soon!” ′