Macaroni and cheese is the quintessential comfort food that evokes memories of quick after-school meals, grandparents and the ubiquitous blue and yellow colors of the standard Kraft brand that most people grew up eating. But after one visit to Garden City’s Mac & Melts, it’s clear that there is far more to this dish than mere pasta, cheese and butter. This is a place where you can sink your teeth into variations on this dish ranging from the South Philly (shaved roast beef, mushrooms, onions, roasted red peppers and homemade Cheese Whiz) and Make Shroom (sautéed mushrooms, aged gouda, Gruyere and truffle oil drizzle) to the Veg Head (broccoli, tomatoes, zucchini, roasted red peppers and creamy goat cheese). For the past year or so, Jericho resident Richard Yorke and his octogenerian father Mel have been using the former’s store to turn adventurous foodies on to variations of this most humble of meals.
“Our menu is all made fresh as you wait, so you can delete ingredients. If you don’t like jalapenos in your mac, we’ll take them out,” explained Yorke the elder. “We can add, delete, make it gluten-free, with quinoa—we’re pretty easy to get along with.”
The melts part of the restaurant’s moniker refers to the equally delicious array of sandwiches that can be found on the menu. Among the choices available are the Classic Wisconsin Melt (a smooth blend of Wisconsin’s finest mild and aged cheddars on Pullman bread and grilled to perfection), the Mama Luke (grilled portobello mushroom, zucchini, roasted red peppers, onions, fresh mozzarella, arugula, pesto and balsamic drizzle on ciabatta) and the Mac & Melt (deep-fried mac & cheese, aged cheddar stuffed between two slices of Pullman bread, topped with homemade sundried tomato pesto).
The trip to turning the world of macaroni and cheese on its head got its start when both Yorkes wound up having to reinvent themselves after Mel had brought his son into the textile industry, where he had moved up through the ranks to become a successful businessman. Despite having a New York City office and plant in North Carolina that employed 80 families, the Yorkes wound up seeing the economic grounds shift as textile and manufacturing jobs wound up getting outsourced to overseas markets in China and Vietnam.
A move to the food service industry led to a brief stint as the Healthy Gourmet, a company that distributed healthy alternatives like Greek yogurt and vegan sandwiches to elementary, middle and high schools along with colleges. Larger companies that were more established in this field wound up squeezing the Yorkes out of the market. And while Richard and a former partner came up with the idea of Mac & Melts right down to hiring designers, decorators and culinary consultants to lay the groundwork for potential franchising, a disagreement led to his going it alone. Father Mel was more than happy to come out of being “unhappily retired” to help his son out with the heavy lifting, as well as sign on to work for his son.
“My son Richard owns this store. I am an employee here and I work here,” Mel said. “My job when we get extremely busy is to stand behind the register and punch everything in. The system works—when you punch in the food, it goes right to the chef, etc. Then when I get a moment, I walk around to everybody’s table and schmooze. I want to make sure they’re happy and if they’re not happy, I will make them happy.”
A recent visit to the immaculately clean 1,300-square foot store space found Mel Yorke, personally greeting each customer who came through the door.