Dave Collier, who at one time owned and operated an inline hockey facility, hopes his newest venture will score big with fans of an age-old comfort food.
The 44-year-old Collier and his partner Americo Punzalan, 41, are opening Say Cheese, a gourmet grilled "cheesery" shop, in the new year.
The take-out-only eatery is located where the Fort Toy Box used to be, at 9199 Glover Rd., just two doors down from Collier's established restaurant and martini bar, Eighteen 27.
Collier says the grilled cheese sandwiches are "chef inspired."
"We wanted to do something completely different," Collier said.
Punzalan added, "When people think of comfort food, this [grilled cheese] is among the top two or three items that people think about, because it brings you back to childhood. It's comfortable; it's familiar."
The seven varieties of sandwiches cover a wide range, from the basic grilled cheese to meatloaf, to turkey, and Brie with a jalape¤o cranberry sauce, to ham and pineapple with a chili sauce, to butter chicken accompanied by cilantro and mango chutney.
"What we want to do with our sandwiches, is we want representation of different ethnic groups," Punzalan said.
Collier said he and Punzalan tried "about 40" combinations of grilled cheese before deciding on what will make it on the menu.
"Between the both of us, we've probably gained about 40 pounds," Punzalan joked. "I've gained the lion's share."
Punzalan, a regular customer at Eighteen 27, has been friends with Collier for years, so becoming business partners seemed like a natural fit.
"We got to talking about food and Americo's totally a foodie; he takes pictures of almost every food that he eats," Collier said. "Americo and I have been looking at [opening] something for several years."
Collier said too many of today's businesses are "chainy and boxy," whereas Say Cheese follows a trend of kitschy restaurants that Collier saw and experienced first hand while living in California in the early 2000s.
"Americo and I had been talking about a concept where it's gourmet-style food but it's more of a fast-food style," Collier said. "We wanted something that is, in a sense, a fast-food product but still a healthy product. Something you feel good about eating."
The sandwiches have passed one taste test. Punzalan's daughter attends Langley Fine Arts School and gave it her thumbs up.
Say Cheese will potentially cater to students at nearby LFAS.
"In town, there isn't a lot of take-out food," Collier said.
"There weren't a lot of options for the students to come into town and get something quick," Punzalan noted. "Invention is born out of necessity."
The format works like this: Customers order their sandwich of choice, which is placed, under a layer of potato chips, in a paper cone. There are no chairs or stools in Say Cheese. All orders are take out.
"It's just quick, easy, and something that's homemade," Collier said.
While opening up any new business is a leap of faith for Collier and Punzalan, this seems more like a puddle jump compared to the one Collier and his Eighteen 27 business partner Kyle Smith took in 2007.
He opened Eighteen 27 during that year's Cranberry Festival, which takes place each October in downtown Fort Langley.
The risk has paid off.
"This has been a great business," he said of Eighteen 27. "Now that I'm in my 40s, it's a little more adult. We've been lucky. We have a great chef, Aaron Turkstra, and we have great employees."
Like any business, there were some growing pains. Collier said switching from the sports industry to owning a restaurant was "completely different."
"But it was nice; it was a challenge," Collier said. "I like starting a new business. That's the fun part, is starting a business, and then moving on to start another business."
In 1995, Collier opened Westcoast Roller Hockey in the building on the east end of Mufford Crescent. The former location has changed back to its original incarnation and is now known as The Hockey House.
"[Westcoast] was my first main business," Collier said.
He ran Westcoast, which included youth and roller hockey leagues as well as some ball hockey, until 2001. Not long after the operation moved to the Langley Sportsplex, Collier sold Westcoast and moved to California.
There, he worked for the city of Huntington Beach, as a consultant on a 50-acre sports complex.
In 2005, he moved back to British Columbia and has since found a home in the food industry.
"People are coming in, they're expecting something nice, and if you can serve them a good product, you feel proud about it," he said. "When I was in roller hockey, I was passionate about that, and now that I'm in the food industry, I'm passionate about_ using local, fresh product. Something that's made and not pre-made. I like to see something that I created which I think is something that's missing in this society."