-By Seth Daniel
James DiSabatino was president of his class in 2005 at Revere High School (RHS).
A couple of years ago, he graduated in the top of his class at Emerson College with a high-powered degree in marketing.
It would have seemed he was headed up the traditional ladder of success.
But he took a detour.
Now he resides in the land of the gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches.
“This all came about pretty simply,” said DiSabatino, 24. “I decided once I graduated college a year and a half ago that I didn’t want to get a job in the corporate world and instead I wanted to make grilled cheeses.”
What has emerged from that decision is an eccentric food truck business that DiSabatino operates in Cleveland Circle near Boston College – a business that has quickly become a cult phenomenon in Boston. He goes by the business name Roxy’s Gourmet Grilled Cheese Truck, and despite only a few months in business, great things are already happening to him on a national platform.
Speaking to the Journal from Manhattan, Kansas, last week, DiSabatino is in the midst of filming a television show for the Food Network called ‘The Great Food Truck Race.’
“I guess the Food Network found us online and they really liked the idea of Boston guys being on the show selling gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches,” said DiSabatino, whose parents are Jeff and Annmarie. “They called us and my brother and I jumped on a plane and came to Los Angeles and they brought the truck out for us. This is the biggest production the Food Network has ever had and they believe it’s going to be a big hit. Just by the cities we’ve been to, people seem to really, really like grilled cheese. Who knows, maybe we’ll end up opening up three or four other trucks in other cities.”
The show, hosted in prime time by Tyler Lawrence, is in its second season and features eight food trucks from all over the country, including California, New York City, Salt Lake City and Cleveland. They will compete for $100,000 in prize money. At each location on the race, the trucks compete to sell the most food and take in the most money. The truck with the lowest sales at is eliminated.
The show will premiere on August 14th.
Already, DiSabatino – accompanied by his younger brother Mike – have driven their grilled cheese truck to Malibu, CA; Las Vegas; Salt Lake City; Denver and – when the Journal caught up with them – Manhattan, Kansas (home to Kansas State University).
Their next stop was Memphis, and DiSabatino said there were three weeks left in the competition.
“We use a lot of great breads and gourmet cheeses,” said DiSabatino. “We put things in our sandwiches you wouldn’t expect in a grilled cheese. People usually look at our menu and say, ‘Seriously.’ They’re baffled by it. That’s sort of the point. We want to throw them off and in the end, they like it.”
Some of their creative sandwiches have a Boston flair, such as the ‘Green Muenster,’ which features select Muenster cheese, homemade guacamole dip and thick applewood bacon.
The most complex, however, was a Foie Gras Grilled Cheese – definitely a top shelf item in the world of pressed cheese sandwiches.
“We made a Foie Gras grilled cheese with candied walnuts, a cherry compote and a French port-salut cheese,” said DiSabatino. “We didn’t know how it was going to work out. It’s a hard sandwich to make and expensive to get out. We had to sell it for $16 and weren’t sure how it would go over, but people bought it up like crazy.”
He added, “There’s so many things you can do with a grilled cheese. It doesn’t limit us. We have an infinite amount of sandwiches we can rotate in and out of the menu and keep people happy and on their toes.”
And while the world of the grilled cheese has been good to DiSabatino thus far, he said that owning his own business has been difficult. He said that sometimes he does think about how much easier it would have been to use his marketing degree and to work for somebody else.
“It’s a lot more work than I thought it would be,” he said. “Some days I think I had a great marketing degree and I could have gotten a job and worked regular hours and it would have been easier. Some days I think maybe I should have done that. I’m probably working two or three times as hard as what I would be if I had landed a job in the corporate marketing world. But in reality, this is mine. I control my own destiny doing this whereas if I’m somewhere else, someone else controls my destiny.”
DiSabatino is certainly part of a growing trend of recent college graduates who have started their own businesses – students who came out of school just as the economy tanked and jobs for young adults became scarce.
In the absence of available jobs, numerous young people – and a number of them from Revere – have turned to their own resolve to make a living.
DiSabatino said that his desire to open his own business was not only about the economy, but also about his personal experiences.
“People my age want to be in control of their future,” he said. “They just want to live happy lives. In Revere, a lot of people suffer from seeing their parents work hard every day of their lives – the blue collar life. Personally, I hated seeing my parents get up every day and work for someone else and then come home exhausted and tired. That’s not what I wanted to do.”
Instead, DiSabatino decided to make grilled cheeses, and if his adventure on the Food Network is any indication, he’ll certainly press on with this detour.