Food News

The Way Back Team's American Grind Will Replace MiJo at Avanti

When we chatted with the owners and chefs of the Way Back recently, they told us they were plotting an American Grind location for 2017, but refused to divulge further information. Now they've revealed that they'll be taking over MiJo's slot on the first floor of Avanti when that concept moves on in mid-January.

American Grind began life as a burger-slinging food trailer; Jared Schwartz got up the courage to launch it thanks to his friendship with Kade Gianinetti, who is also his partner in the Way Back. (Chad Michael George is the third member of the ownership trio.) "Chad, Kade, and I worked at Linger together, and Kade and I played golf together," says Schwartz. "I kept talking about this idea. I grew up next to this place called Swensons in Akron, and it just killed it. It was delicious. I craved it — I miss it every day — so I kept thinking, how can I make that even better? That's where the whole thing started. When Kade left Linger, he shook my hand and said, 'I’m going to make you do this.'"

Swensons was a classic 1950s-era drive-in that served up burgers and milkshakes. When Schwartz created American Grind, though, he gave the food an upgrade — even if it was coming from a trailer. "Swensons didn’t focus on sourcing local, and that was our whole thing," he says. "We're sourcing beef the right way, buying local, sustainable stuff from solid purveyors trying to do the right thing."

When the partners locked down the Way Back space, they initially planned to build on American Grind there, offering burgers alongside cocktails. But chefs Marcus Eng and Samuel Charles, who spent a summer cooking burgers in the trailer, convinced them otherwise.

But the shift in plans for that address didn't put a stop to ambitions for American Grind. "Over the two summers we did this, people seemed to really dig our message," Schwartz says. "Our next move was going to be brick and mortar. Lucky for us, we had a few people reach out and ask about the concept. Avanti was one, and we're really excited to be one of the seven in there."

When American Grind opens in Avanti, the partners plan to offer the same burgers beloved by food-truck fans, plus a housemade veggie burger, hand-cut fries and an Iowa pork sandwich. "It's a breaded pork loin with lettuce, tomato and housemade mayo," says Schwartz. It will also turn out three or four housemade ice cream flavors, which Schwartz says are built on a cream-cheese base. (American Grind makes everything from its buns to its ketchup from scratch.)

Schwartz will be in charge of the operation at Avanti, but he says that Eng and Charles may pop over to help cook from time to time. Schwartz is also hoping this leads to more expansion. "Being a young company, Avanti is a perfect fit to try and slowly expand," he says. "We have a chance to try out the concept there and see people’s reactions for pretty low overhead. There's less risk to it."

The team signed a two-year lease.
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Laura Shunk was Westword's restaurant critic from 2010 to 2012; she's also been food editor at the Village Voice and a dining columnist in Beijing. Her toughest assignment had her drinking ten martinis and eating ten Caesar salads over the course of 48 hours. She still drinks martinis, but remains lukewarm on Caesar salads.
Contact: Laura Shunk