Call me Greg. I make grilled cheese sandwiches for a living at a little melt bar called Co. Cheese
. I’m from "the six" (Toronto, Canada), but I’ve been living in Shanghai for 15 years and opened the Cheese three years ago.
Nowadays I live in Xuhui, by the Library
, but I’m a Jing'an boy through and through, and that’s where my bar is too. My new neighborhood is quite chilled out. Probably the quietest of downtown addresses filled with embassies and heritage architecture and mysterious government buildings. But when you spend most of your day working in a bar, a bit of peace and quiet is golden. In contrast, Jing'an is the most vibrant area in the city. Spoilt for choice.
Like many of us, I have quite an ambivalent relationship with the 'hai. Every time I visit home, I relish what I used to take for granted. Like ah… breathing. Breathing clean air is cool. So are parks and nature paths and supermarkets not named City Shop. But then when I come back two weeks later and see three new businesses open on my block, well, I remember that Shanghai is way too stimulating to hold a grudge against. I guess you could say I’m both stressed out by and in awe of the pace of this city. Go figure.
I cook western food at my bar, and am an avid home cook as well, so I tend to lean towards Chinese food when I want to eat out. I love me some Hunanese food, and my favorite little joint is a place in North Jing'an called Shangrila
. No no. Not the perfumey hotel, a little ma 'n pop shop on Xikang Lu. Great value, authentic but dingy vibe, and way better than every other Hunan place on the laowai circuit. I’m a big fan of FOMO
too… a late night crayfish and crab joint. Yummy. There’s a hidden little café called 1984
, where, in fair weather, you can sit reading for hours in their very relaxing garden. I used to go to bars, but having spent the last few years working in one, that’s the last place you’ll find me, unless there is a match on, in which case its Cages
. Oh, and the Commune Social
never ever disappoints.
The Commune Social on Jiangning Lu
My favorite thing to do in the city that doesn't involve eating or drinking? I’m a bit of a wanderer when I have the time. As long as I’ve been living here, I like to explore new areas off the beaten path. You might find a cool restaurant or park or something you wouldn’t expect. It’s a huge place, Shanghai is, so sometimes I take the subway and just get off wherever. I did that once years ago and found Korea town. Yessss!
Favorite physical part of the city... As opposed to metaphysical? Wow. Your shit runs deep, SmartShanghai. I’m not into art that much but when I feel like chilling out I roll up to M50
, Moganshan Lu art district. Great place to wander about. I also like Lujiazui a lot. The modern architecture is as impressive as they get in this world.
I hope I can call Shanghai home or a second home at least for a lot longer. I’d like to expand to a few more locations. Plan is for Co. Cheese to open two more locations before the end of the year. We're looking at a nearby location now, and on the strength of that shop, we'll see what's next. We're also bringing Hotbox
back, but as a place that makes hotsauce, instead of just selling it. So no reason to pump the breaks yet.
I think Co. Cheese popular because it's a niche. Kind of a trendy hipster thing, but, you know, not hipster. Like, prehipster postmodern contemporary, but with a twist, you know. Errm. The sandwich is an institution wherever you are, but out here for we expats, if you can come into a cozy bar and munch on a thanksgiving dinner grilled cheese sandwich with a bowl of spiked coco pebbles while listening to Johnny Cash … well… we need that sometimes. That’s what I bet on anyway. The locals dig it too because for them it’s a different vibe, I like to think that’s what makes it special.
As for why sandwiches... Hell, man. I just have a thing for sandwiches. They make me happy. It’s comfort food. And its not just a sandwich, it’s a GRILLED CHEESE
, dammit. Who doesn’t love that?! I fell in love with sandwiches well before I even thought of opening up a sandwich shop. Leftovers were the key to my sandwich inventions. I would order takeout: Indian, Thai, Chinese, whatever, or just cook meals at home for myself and consciously save some choice leftovers for the next morning, when I would chop them up and put them in between some bread and cheese. After about 20 years of trial and error, I decided to open up shop.
The qualities required to master the sandwich? What, is that a serious question? I don’t know. All I know is that if you are going to focus on doing one thing only you’d better do it damn well. I’m not a chef, but I like to make soups and pickles and sandwiches and play tunes. It may seem simple, but actually it can be as simple or complicated as you want it to be, and there is a lot of care put into it.
At the end of the day, I’m alright with just sharing the things I love.