In 2017, 14-year-old Anna Thompson of Flossmoor told her parents she wanted to start a business.
A year later, she was the proud owner of Say Cheese, a food truck that serves delicious grilled cheese sandwiches.
Surprisingly, grill cheese is not Anna’s favorite food, but that didn’t matter to her. As a business decision, she knew it would be a hit and she could develop varieties on the simple cheese-on-bread sandwich.
Her menu these days includes the classic version, although she makes it with cheddar cheese, not American. She makes variations on the traditional by adding tomato and bacon. The top seller, and Anna’s favorite, is the “Green Machine” made with mozzarella, spinach and pesto. There’s also “Whatever Floats Your Goat” made with goat cheese. She’ll add bacon on request.
Anna is the only cook for Say Cheese. She uses two griddles and has a special rotation so she can remember the orders. Her sister Emily, and friends Mia Pravdic, Ben Hamer, Caroline Johnson and Matt Turnquest help with the orders.
Anna uses a supply house, but there have been times when someone has run to the nearest store for something they’ve run out of. She’s still learning how to judge just how much cheese and bread to buy. Her calculation is 25 sandwiches per five pounds of cheese.
Her busiest event was Homewood’s Fall Fest. She found herself cooking for 12 hours with just one 15-minute break. Say Cheese will next be at Homewood’s Holiday Lights celebration on Dec. 7.
Anna’s parents, Tyler and Sandy Thompson, allowed her to cook in the family’s kitchen since she was preschool age. The idea for a food truck is something she borrowed after seeing one in Michigan.
“I took pictures and made a business plan,” she recalled, “but I was just dreaming back then (in 2017). I didn’t think it would work.
“And then, the more I thought about it, that could be a really good thing for me to do in summer as a job and just something fun to do,” she said.
“In April, I started to ask my dad more and more about it and over spring break drew up floor plans” for the mini-restaurant on wheels. Her dad gave her an old flatbed truck from his business.
“It was very rusty so we restored it and then built the trailer,” she said.
The teen put her savings from babysitting into the project, covering costs for materials. The build-out started June 5 and the food truck was ready for Anna to go to “work” over the July 4th weekend in Sawyer, Michigan, where her family has a house.
“I didn’t have a customer for the first hour and a half, but I realized I opened at 10 (in the morning), probably not the best hour,” she laughs. “I was sitting there thinking this is the biggest mistake I ever made and after that it was just nonstop for the rest of the day.
“It stayed that way for the first two weeks and after that we realized that we were profitable. All of our expenses had been paid off for those two weeks,” she said.
In late July, Anna took her business plans to Miami University in Ohio where she took a summer business course. The two-week course covered introduction to principles of business accounting, entrepreneurship, management and finance.
Anna has set the business aside to focus on her junior year at Homewood-Flossmoor High School, where she is a member of the H-F girls golf team, the varsity soccer team, a member of the National Honor Society, the National Art Honor Society and the DECA business association.
She plans to major in business in college.