Before the pandemic, Mohamed Abdelmeguid and Francisco Bastidas were happily running their health-conscious fruit bowl and smoothie food truck, Ruru Kitchen. But that was then, and this is now: Now the people want cheese-centric comfort food, smothered with cheese and with cheese on the side.
And Abdelmeguid and Bastidas are giving the people what they want.
Total Meltdown, a new pop-up shop of indulgent, cheesy food that opened within Mission Picnic last month, is almost entirely a product of the current, mid-pandemic business environment, its owners said.
Total Meltdown offers grilled cheese, mac n’ cheese, and cheesy potato wedges in seven different styles such as “Seoul Food,” “Cuban-O So Good,” and “Meat Craze.” The types of cheese they use include gouda, gruyere, and goat cheese.
In their fruit-bowl days, the pair made most of their earnings in catering events and consistent batch orders from tech companies looking to stock up their cafeterias. Both of those gigs ended with the pandemic.
Like many other businesses, Ruru Kitchen tried to create kits with different ingredients to make up for their losses. When that didn’t work out, Abdelmeguid and Bastidas started thinking more seriously about opening a storefront, something they said they’ve been thinking about since the start of their partnership in 2017.
“We started to see sharp decreases in rent, and more lease flexibility,” Abdelmeguid said.
The pair enlisted a realtor to help them find a location, who then introduced them to Akop Jacob Paronyan, an experienced restaurant worker and former director of operations for LB Steak in San Jose. Paronyan was recently unemployed after the restaurants he worked with let him go to deal with their own shutdown-related losses.
“They were looking, I was looking … through our different conversations with the realtor we met and decided there was something to be had together,” Paronyan said.
In their conversations, Paronyan convinced them to adopt the cheesy menu concept he’d been working on.
Abdelmeguid said Paronyan’s idea made more sense for a time when people are more inclined toward comfort foods.
Not long after Paronyan joined the team, one of Bastidas’ old classmates from California College of the Arts connected the trio with Sterling Tatsumi Price, owner of Mission Picnic, on Valencia Street near 21st Street.
“He was very open. He was trying to survive. He was trying to get out of this alive,” Bastidas said of Price.
Soon, the two parties came to an agreement: Price would run Mission Picnic for lunch, just as he had been for the pandemic, while Total Meltdown would be open evenings, from 4 to 9 p.m.
Now, Price can pad his own revenue by renting out his space during the evenings, when it wouldn’t be getting used anyway, and the three entrepreneurs can take their new business on a test run inside a storefront, with no long-term commitment to the space.
Abdelmeguid, Bastidas and Paronyan did not state when their pop-up will close, only that Total Meltdown will be available for the foreseeable future.