Thursday, July 12, 2012

(Truly) Permanent Brand Affinity

Have you ever heard of Melt Bar & Grilled?
A few years ago, I would have assumed no – but since opening in 2006, the little sandwich bar that could has reached national acclaim on more than one occasion, including:
  • Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives 
  • Travel Channel’s Man v. Food 
  • Best Restaurant – Cleveland Scene Magazine, 2012, 2011, 2010 
  • 1 of the 10 Best Sports Bars in AmericaESPN Magazine, 2011 
  • 1 of the Best Sandwiches in AmericaEsquire Magazine, 2008
Impressive for a biz born amidst one of the worst economic down-turns in recent history in a city dubbed the “Mistake on the Lake.”

How’d they do it?

They’ve got some serious fans…

0 to 4 restaurants in under 6 years.

Just being “good” won’t grow and sustain that type of following – you have to be great.

Patrons looking to dine on one of Melt’s famous custom-made gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches are willing to wait upwards of 120 minutes during peak hours.

If you’re strong enough to push past the sprinkling of soccer mom’s that routinely haul in from the surrounding suburbs, you’ll discover the colorful amalgamation of 20- and 30-somethings that make up the “Melt Family” and sustain the venture.

…fans willing to profess their love in ink.

We’re talking real tattoos here.

Back in 2009 when Melt announced their “25% off for life” promotion for anyone brandishing a Melt tattoo – I laughed.

Sure, all restaurants that enjoy a certain level of cult following eventually decide to sell branded merchandise, but buying a ball cap is one thing.  

Melt supporters actually brand themselves!

How many? In less than 3 years – 405 patrons and counting.

For some it’s a small, simple mark in an inconspicuous place. For others, it’s a substantial multicolored part to a larger full-body installation. 

A Marketer’s Dream

Do you think any national chain even comes close to boasting 400+ in inked promotional real estate? There’s no greater/more permanent proclamation of devotion.

And when you think that those 400 are spread across a mere 3 locations?!


How and why is it working?!

Sandwiches run from $6.00 to $12.00 – at a savings of $1.50 to $3.00 per entrée, don’t tell me it’s the prospect of money saved.

No, the tattoo promotion works because it satisfies a primal need that beats inside all of us.

It fulfills a sense of belonging.

Much like wearing a high school letterman jacket or driving around with university-sponsored window clings, the tattoo promo is an extreme way of pledging one’s loyalty; it grants participants access to an ultra-exclusive group. 

The sense of inclusion is heightened by the inherent perception/demographic alignment tattoos possess in general – permanence, strength and membership in a hard-core counter-culture.

It’s exclusivity.

You wouldn’t find a huge pool of willing participants in a similar promo cast by; say TGIFriday’s or Applebee’s.

Why? They’re too big.

It’s not cool to admit to being part of the mass homogenization of modern America.

So long as Melt remains small and (relatively) underground, the tattoos hold value. They possess a cult-like discern-ability held only between other members of the melt family.

It’s investor confidence.

A quick review of the books and enduring foot traffic are one thing; but droves of patrons professing their affinity with body art?

Would-be investors need no better proof where to lay down their money.

Its sustainability is a delicate balance.

While I applaud Melt’s growth, I often worry of a total sellout – the mass production of the Melt concept stamped out across the entire country. I mean, that’s how all the major chains in existence today got their start, right?

Who’d want a Melt tattoo when the sandwich shop is sitting on every corner of every neighborhood?

When you can order their “Porky Cheese,” “Godfather,” and "Parmageddon" sandwiches at highway outcroppings?

So long as Melt remains strategic in location selection – young, hip, urban-renewal style communities – they should be able to flourish, brand intact.

At least for the first 100 locations…

Until then,
if ever you find yourself in NE Ohio, you’ve gotta stop by.

In the meantime, check out their website or Facebook page for more pictures and insight into the madness!


  1. Amateur. I'm missing me some Gyro Melt. Oh, and the chili. Num-num!