Recognizable among the smattering of local food trucks for its oozing grilled cheeses and distinct logo depicting a mouse in a chef’s apron, The Big Cheeze is known for the extra-cheesy flavor it brings to downtown Bloomington.
Famous among students for its $6 “Mac Daddy,” a signature grilled cheese sandwich loaded with mac and cheese, The Big Cheeze is a staple for Bloomington’s nightlife.
For patron Leandria Alexander, it’s not hard to understand why the "Mac Daddy" brings home 60% of The Big Cheeze’s sales.
“It just tastes amazing,” Alexander said. “It’s like the perfect amount of butter and cheese. I don’t even know what else to say; it’s delicious.”
In spite of its status as one of Bloomington’s favorite food spots, The Big Cheeze was actually started in Boilermaker territory by Purdue graduate Chad Sutor and IU graduate Joe Morton, who set out to build a business run by college students for other college students.
“We started as college students running it, and there’s just a difference in the personality and atmosphere,” said Cory Sampson, co-owner of The Big Cheeze. “It’s just this wild and crazy group of people selling grilled cheese out of this little truck."
Sampson joined in on the business, which Sutor moved entirely to Bloomington a few years following its creation, after graduating from IU in 2014.
The beauty of The Big Cheeze’s mobility, he said, is that it fills a demand for late-night dining that other restaurants with standard closing times simply can’t stay open for. But this means that for each night shift that caters to the midnight appetites of college kids, someone needs to be behind the serving window. Sometimes, that’s Sampson.
In spite of the abnormal hours and varying weather conditions, Sampson said the employees of The Big Cheeze find ways to maintain the lively spirit of the business.
“It’s not like it’s the funnest job in the world, making a grilled cheese,” Sampson said. “But when you find the people that can have fun, that can play some fun music, and have fun with the customers and make things interesting, those are the people that we try to find and that we try to retain as employees.”
Although it’s most popular with IU students enjoying the bar scene late at night—the truck can typically be found between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. on Kirkwood Avenue—the Big Cheeze is also a daytime favorite amongst students, like Maitreyee Malpekar, an IU freshman studying economic consulting. Malpekar likes that a truck dedicated to one of her favorite foods is just a short walk away.
“Grilled cheese is one of my comfort foods, and I haven’t really had it since I got here,” Malpekar said. “It lives up to my expectations because I feel very comforted, and it’s a really good sandwich.”
The Big Cheeze has also carved out a role in the deeper Bloomington community. It can be spotted serving up grilled cheeses at community events such as Taste of Bloomington, and it is consistently present at Food Truck Fridays, a town-favorite event where local food trucks gather in one spot once a week. It caters everything from church events to graduation parties and work closely with organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club and Humane Society to advance their charitable values.
“It’s kind of a Dine and Donate model,” Sampson said. “It allows us to make a profit but also give back to the community in those different ways.”
The Big Cheeze has seen a lot of growth in the years since it began a few years ago, but at the heart of the company will always be the classic college kid zeal that started it all.
“We’re college students working for ourselves, working for other college students that have a different set of ideals,” Sampson said. “It was just like really young and wild to start.”