Kristin and Bill Hall are the loving couple behind the popular Melt Sandwich Shop in White Plains.
They’ve been serving up their addictive sandwiches since 2009 and were slated to open a second location in Stamford at the end of last month. Their partnership in business and in life made us want to know how they achieved success in both. So, we went back to the beginning. We wondered, When it came to love, what initially melted their hearts?
The couple met in Mystic, Connecticut, where Kristin, who holds a master’s degree in neuroscience, waited tables at a restaurant Bill helmed, the now-defunct Azu. “I had a crush on Bill from my very first day working there,” she says.
Bill had opened Azu after his success as executive chef and co-owner of Bravo down the road. His initial resistance to dating a co-worker waivered one evening when Kristin dropped a plate of food.
“Her reaction was so genuine and she was so upset about it that it made me see what an incredibly sweet and sensitive person she really was,” Bill says. “I knew right then that I wanted to ask her out on a date.”
“Our first date was to The Copper Beech Inn in Old Lyme, Connecticut,” Kristin says. “Bill ordered a bottle of wine and, when the server poured him the taste to drink, his hands were shaking so much he had to use (them both) to hold the glass. At the time, I was so nervous myself, I didn’t even notice.”
Eventually, Bill started planning his new business venture, scouting locations in White Plains. Kristin dove right in to help but she was about to accept her first job in the neuroscience field. She realized she had a decision to make.
“I’d never believed in anything as much as I believed in Melt,” she says. “So turning that research job down was the easiest choice I ever made. I can honestly say that Bill’s dream of a sandwich shop became my dream long before we even signed the lease or wrote the menu for Melt. I’ve never once looked back.”
They threw themselves fully in to the business and a concept for Melt started to take shape.
“We wanted to do something different and beyond the typical sandwich shop,” Kristin says. “We knew our ingredients — from the house-roasted and smoked meats to the made-from-scratch breads and sauces — would definitely set us apart. But we also wanted the ordering process to be different. Our concept of ‘choose your bread, choose your meat, choose your topping combo’ came together when we were thinking of ways to have a truly unique way of creating a sandwich.”
Soon, true to the name they had chosen, their relationship and their business began to melt together.
“The biggest surprise for me was just how much everything about owning your own business becomes so much a part of you,” Kristin says. “We put absolutely everything, mentally and physically, into the business. It’s impossible to leave work at work, especially when that work is literally our entire livelihood.”
But the pressure helped propel them forward.
“There’s no second income to fall back on in our marriage,” Kristin says. “We’re all in. It can be challenging at times. For example, we haven’t taken a vacation beyond small weekend getaways since our honeymoon in 2010. But it’s truly all worth every single day of hard work. We both genuinely love what we do and feel so much pride with every compliment we receive.”
The couple knew they were onto something when a thread was started on food enthusiast website Chowhound. After a week, the thread had grown with people raving about their food. “I remember being pretty blown away by that,” Kristin says. “But I think it took a little longer before we really thought, ‘OK, we’re doing good.’ I’d say that was probably a year or two in, when we nabbed the number one spot on Yelp for all businesses in White Plains.”
They recently hit a snag when looking to expand. They couldn’t use the name Melt at the Stamford location.
“When we first opened we were the only business with the name ‘Melt’ in the entire Northeast,” Kristin says. That’s changed since their opening in White Plains. “Because of this, we’re changing the name of the (Stamford) location to Roasted Sandwich Co.,” she says. The couple plan on keeping the same sandwich menu that succeeded in White Plains but are adding house-cut French fries, mac and cheese, ice cream sandwiches and a full bar to their offerings.
Alas, as with all business and personal relationships, there are trade-offs. The annual ultimate date night approaches but it seems the busy business side of Bill and Kristin’s partnership will eclipse any plans for romance.
“This year for Valentine’s Day we will both most likely be at our new shop,” Kristin says. “It will be the first holiday with both sandwich shops open and we’ll need to make sure things go smoothly. So, it probably won’t be too romantic this year. But we have had very romantic V-Days in the past, the best one probably being when we went ice skating and spent the day together in Providence, Rhode Island. Simple but fun.”
As they expand upon the dream that started it all, Kristin and Bill have advice for couples like them who are considering the plunge into business together.
“Make sure you both really love it and feel passionate about what you can create together,” Kristin says. “Make sure that the business is something that you can truly envision yourself sacrificing for and fighting for. If you both are willing to fully give it everything you’ve got, you’ll never fail.”
She adds a caveat.
“Also, keep in mind that owning a business together means seeing your significant other pretty much 24/7/365 so try to be at least relatively sure that you won’t kill each other after all that time together.”
For more, visit meltsandwich.com.