CORRECTION: Mike Buckles is the owner of Tom+Chee in Katy.
On a sunny afternoon in late June, the sounds of food sizzling on the stove, customers chatting and employees joking filled the red-and-yellow decorated Tom+Chee, a fast-casual restaurant in Katy.
Tom+Chee, which derives its name from the classic combination of tomato soup and grilled cheese, serves more than just that. The business has a variety of options from salads, melts, soups, grilled cheeses and the item that got television personality Barbara Corcoran to invest in the company on the popular television show “Shark Tank:” the grilled cheese donut.
“It’s not burgers; it’s not chicken; it’s not pizza. It’s unique and different … And everybody loves cheese,” Owner Mike Buckles said. “Most of our items are from scratch too.”
Buckles said it was because of his daughter that he decided to join the franchise in 2016.
“My daughter had run into a Tom+Chee up in Bossier City [in Louisiana], and she said, ‘Dad you’ve got to see this concept,’” Buckles said. “So I did my research and was very, very intrigued about the concept.”
Buckles previously worked with three Fortune 500 companies at senior management levels and said his experiences there shaped his management style. He said it was the desire to own his own company that gave him the push to open a franchise location.
“I always had that entrepreneurial spirit,” Buckles said. “I like to take care of people; it’s all I’ve ever done, so getting the opportunity to do it myself, for myself, was and still is pretty exciting.”
Buckles said the restaurant made a profit after about 90 days, which he credits to his years in the customer service industry and his employees.
“It stressed me and extended all of my knowledge in those first 90 days. But it’s true what they say, if you do something you love, you never work a day in your life,” Buckles said.
While Hurricane Harvey did not cause any structural damages, it did financially strain the restaurant. Buckles said sales went down 60 percent after the storm.
“Everybody [in Katy]was impacted by Harvey, and I would like to get back to the pre-Harvey numbers. It’s coming back, but it’s coming back slowly,” Buckles said.
Buckles said he plans to open his second Tom+Chee restaurant by the first quarter of 2019 despite the post-Harvey sales decrease. This would be the franchise’s 18th location and the first drive-thru prototype.
“We’re thinking kind of north in the Conroe, Woodlands, Magnolia areas, but we’re open to just finding that perfect location,” Buckles said. “We’re missing that whole [drive-thru] market right now. The people coming in on the freeway, they want that convenience, and it’s not here.”
Buckles said he plans on working in the industry for years to come.
“When I opened this place I said, ‘You know what Mike? You’re going to be working until the end,’” Buckles said. “I’m having too much fun.”
21788 I-10, Ste. 500, Katy
Hours: Mon.-Sun. 11 a.m.-10 p.m.