Melt and more: Gourmet grilled cheese helped revive a Birmingham neighborhood

A Special Sponsored Report from the Alabama News Center

 

By Susan Swagler

DSC_3998From grilled cheese to craft cocktails, Harriet Reis and Paget Pizitz offer people plenty of delicious reasons to hang out in hip Avondale. Together and separately, they own four establishments that are invigorating this Birmingham neighborhood with its exciting and fast-growing restaurant and bar scene.

The two women are partners in Melt, which specializes in grilled cheese sandwiches of all sorts, and in Fancy’s on 5th, an oyster dive and burger bar. Pizitz also owns Hot Diggity Dogs, home to some of the most inventive hot dogs in town, and The Marble Ring speakeasy with its time-travel 1920s vibe.

It all started in 2011 with a food truck named Matilda.

Reis’s restaurant experience included Ocean and 26, which she co-founded. Pizitz moved back to her hometown from New York City in 2009 and wanted to follow in her family’s entrepreneurial footsteps and open some sort of retail business.

Their first collaboration was a fundraising gala, which Reis was chairing. She Facebook messaged Pizitz asking her to help. “We started talking about our passions and what we wanted to do in life,” Reis says. “Come to find out, she wanted to be a restaurant owner, and I wanted to get back into the business.”

DSC_3877

Figuring that a food truck would let them test a grilled cheese concept without a huge investment, the two teamed up with chef Joey Dickerson, and they all hit the road – Pizitz and Dickerson inside the truck making sandwiches, Reis out front with customers.

Dickerson still works with the women today as the executive chef at both Melt and Fancy’s on 5th, and he occasionally drives Matilda, too.

“One of the things that I’m most proud of is that Joey, Paget and I are still in partnership together,” Reis says. “We respect Joey tremendously and trust that he’s going to make the most incredible food.”DSC_3928

Avondale wasn’t on Matilda’s original route, but the neighborhood has become their home base, and they couldn’t be happier.  When they first bought into the area, Avondale Brewing Company and Saw’s Soul Kitchen were about the only businesses there. Reis says she originally was looking to open somewhere over the mountain south of Birmingham.

“I made her come down here one day,” Pizitz says. “I knew she would see it, too, when she saw a Saturday. There are people from 1 to 100. You’ve got the mom and the dad and they’re walking around and want to have drinks on a Saturday and they also have kids and they have dogs, so what do you do? You bring them all to Avondale, and everybody’s welcome. It’s a city. It’s a neighborhood. It’s everything.”