A macaroni-and-cheese chain opened this week just outside Charlotte in the Matthews area. I Heart Mac n’ Cheese’s grand opening marks the restaurant’s first location in North Carolina — and the location is Black-woman-owned.
I Heart Mac n’ Cheese in Matthews is owned and operated by LaTaunya Blanks. Her older sister LaQuanda Blanks-Hoskins is her business consultant, and her younger sister LaToya Blanks is the chief operating officer.
The restaurant’s menu features made-to-order customizable macaroni and cheese bowls, grilled cheese sandwiches and other options. There are classic dishes like lobster mac n’ cheese and not-so-conventional dishes like the “Tacoroni,”– a taco-centric dish — as well as vegan options.
Cooking runs in the family
Blanks said yesterday’s grand opening was “a success” and saw record sales in comparison to the grand opening days of other I Heart Mac n’Cheese locations. Proceeds from each bowl went to TranscendED, a Matthews-based eating disorder treatment center.
Originally from Louisiana, Blanks said she comes from a line of “good home chefs” and said that food was always a big part of her family.
“When I learned to cook, I was always referencing my grandmothers on both sides,” Blanks said. “I always wanted to own my own restaurant.”
From dream to reality
Blanks opted to buy into a franchise as a way to “get her feet wet” before branching out to her own concept.
“I thought [it would]l be a good way from a learning experience before I just branch off into my own,” she said.
The opportunity to take the first steps of owning a restaurant presented itself in the form of the mac n’ cheese chain restaurant.
“I embarked upon a journey that I didn’t know anything about. So I had to learn…on the job, so to speak. But here I am today,” Blanks said. She said it has not “hit her” yet that she’s now a business owner.
A cheesy menu
Blanks said mac n’ cheese is one of the most important sides at any holiday gathering.
And one of her favorite dishes is lobster mac n’ cheese.
“I liked this concept because it was like you can have your own mac and cheese bowl your own bowl. You customize mac and cheese to your liking at any time,” Blanks said. She added that I Heart Mac n’Cheese provides a variety of options for different dietary preferences.
“I like this brand because it can cater to everyone…even if you’re vegan,” Blanks said.
Even though the franchise has its own menu options, Blanks said her culinary creativity is being put to good use. Blanks created new side items that will be available in the future.
Before opening the Matthews location, Blanks got her first taste of I Heart Mac n’ Cheese after having it recommended by her sister. After she liked what she tasted, Blanks’s sister told her she would be able to own her own location.
“I was just thrilled with the concept and the opportunity to finally, you know, make one of [my] dreams come true of owning a restaurant,” Blanks said.