Heidi Gibson of the American Grilled Cheese Kitchen

January 3, 2016 12:44 pm

As an MIT trained engineer with 20 years of experience working in the software industry Heidi Gibson would seem at first glance an unlikely candidate to oversee a growing grilled cheese empire. The events that took Heidi from Silicon Valley to the helm of one of San Francisco’s favorite foodie destinations are anything but ordinary and plenty cheesy. Heidi and her partner, Nate Pollack, were both casualties of the economic downturn and in 2008 they were both laid off from their software jobs. As the daughter of a restaurant CFO, Heidi had been warned to stay away from the food business and instead began planning to open an upscale wine and spirits store.

Looking for ways to turn her idea into a realty Heidi enrolled in Renaissance’s Business Planning Class in early 2009 to help her better lay the groundwork for her business. Through her work in the class Heidi began to realize that her wine and spirits store was increasingly unfeasible. While in the thick of her coursework Heidi competed in the Grilled Cheese Invitational tournament, something she’d been doing as a hobby for the past five years. At the competition friends suggested Heidi open a restaurant and, with entrepreneurship on her mind, Heidi decided to give it a go.

Midway through her 14-week Business Planning Class Heidi switched gears and began planning her grilled cheese takeover. With her business plan complete Heidi and Nate found a spot in SoMa’s South Park area and in May 2010 launched The American Grilled Cheese Kitchen using only their own savings.

The crowds at The American grew and grew and so Heidi decided to extend their hours to include breakfast, weekend and evening service for fans flocking to nearby AT&T Park to watch the San Francisco Giants play. Locals weren’t the only ones taking notice as The American received write-ups in national publications like USA Today and the Wall Street Journal and were even paid a visit by Lady Gaga that was covered in People Magazine! As their exposure grew so did their staff which ballooned from an opening total of 4-5 employees to more than 15 employees. As they expanded the business, Heidi and Nate also grew their staff to 35 employees.

Even with a bustling business Heidi has found the time to mentor current Renaissance students. Each session Heidi volunteers to help students with their business financials.

In 2012, Heidi received Renaissance’s Established Entrepreneur of the Year award.

In 2015, Nate and Heidi received Small Business Persons of the Year Award from the US SBA, upon Renaissance’s nomination.

South Park                                The Mission                               Broadway

1 South Park Ave.                              2400 Harrison St.                               799 Battery St

San Francisco, 94107                        San Francisco, 94110                          San Francisco, CA 94111

(415) 243-0107                                  (415) 926-5076                                    (415) 872-9230

southpark@theamericansf.com       themission@theamericansf.com        broadway@theamericansf.com

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Heidi Gibson