It’s lunchtime on Veterans Day and Grilled Cheese DC just a few blocks from the White House is packed with people looking for a warm restaurant and hot, filling food. Professionals in suits, families with children, college students and veterans dig into sandwiches filled with thick, stretchy cheese.
For their service to the country, their lunch is on the house.
“When we talk about charity, or tzedakah, that extends [everywhere.] I think kindness [is the way to go.] It’s just my nature. Personally, I’ve never been piggish when it comes to money,”, says co-owner Bruce Klores.
Grilled Cheese DC — which serves more than grilled cheese sandwiches, by the way — has honored Veterans Day in this way before. And during this year’s government shutdown, Klores gave away sandwiches, too.
But this Veterans Day hit him differently, in a personal way, he says.
His uncles Daniel and Arthur died while in service during World War II, while his father, a Navy pharmacist, survived. Klores says he recently found letters that his uncles wrote to their families right before they were killed. They were “very chilling.”
“This year, I decided to specifically to honor [my father] and his brother and my mother’s brother,” Klores says.
Offering lunch, he says, “is just something that makes feel good. [It’s] doing a good thing to bring some cheer to people.”
One of the veterans enjoying lunch is Chaz Stanford. He says he served in the Navy “for ages.”
“I was here a couple of years ago for the deal,” Stanford says over a Young American sandwich (American cheese blend, tomato and bacon, on sourdough bread). “The food is delicious and well worth the trip over from Capitol Hill.”
Stanford says that for dinner, he and his wife would head for dinner at Le Diplomate, which was also offering a Veterans Day special.
Klores founded Grilled Cheese DC with his son Steven in 2014. The two had been cooking together since Steven was a boy. But the idea for the father and son to run their own grilled cheese shop didn’t start until several years ago, when Bruce Klores discovered the sandwich has unusual properties.
Back then, Klores was a lawyer in San Francisco. A particularly difficult case had everyone on edge. He noticed that the only time everyone in the room got along was when they were eating grilled cheese sandwiches delivered by “an old Italian man.”
During those lunch breaks, all the stress of the case disappeared. Klores realized wanted to bring that sense of serenity to others.
In 2014, after testing many grilled cheese sandwiches in the basement of his office, Klores and his son opened the restaurant on National Grilled Cheese Day. While Bruce leans towards classic sandwiches, Steven is the one who gets a little more creative with the recipes.
The restaurant also serves macaroni and cheese, nachos, quesadillas and sides like tater tots and soup.
But most importantly, Klores wants people to enjoy their food. He wants them to feel the tranquility he felt as a harried lawyer. The comfort that comes from comfort food.
“The thing about grilled cheese is we’ll do a party like for a big stuffy law firm where people don’t know each other. And then people are eating grilled cheese it brings everyone back to a [certain point] in their life,” Klores says. “It brings everyone together.”