On the Line: Brian Stockholm and Shelley Odom
Papi Queso’s founding couple finds a spot to anchor their comfort food standby—and their new foray into Harriet’s no-frills burgers
Hometown: Great Bend, Pennsylvania
Job description: Maker of cheesy goodness and high-five giver
Currently bingeing: Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy
Where does your love of cooking come from? My grandmother. She was the big cook in our family, and I loved cooking side by side with her, making sticky buns and cinnamon rolls.
How do you split your time between Harriet’s Hamburgers and Papi Queso? If I’m at Harriet’s, Shelley’s at Papi Queso, or vice versa. I spend most of my time coaching our cooks in the kitchen.
What do you like most about a street food concept? These are our passion projects. When we first started with the truck, I’d say, “Let’s go out and make people happy today.” That’s become our hospitality ethos—making people happy.
Why are grilled cheese sandwiches and burgers such universally loved foods? It’s food memories. Everyone has a memory of eating grilled cheese as a child or sitting at a lunch counter having a burger for the first time.
Tell me about the process of perfecting your burger. We played with everything—the type of bun, the creaminess of the cheese, the different ratios of pickles … even the placement of onions. Do they go on top of the burger or the bottom? Should they be cooked or raw? Each ingredient has to stand alone, but together they have to make something grander than they are.
What do you think is an underappreciated flavor? Acid. Everyone concentrates on sweet or salty, but a splash of lemon juice or a little vinegar really brings food to life.
What’s your favorite handheld food? Pizza. It’s the other bread and cheese.
What’s your favorite adult beverage? Tequila.
What do you like to do outside of work? I’m really into music, my other love. I have a huge record collection.
Any rules to live by in a kitchen? Lead, train, and motivate. If you can do those three things, that covers the board.
Hometown: Las Cruces, New Mexico
Job description: The idea person
Currently bingeing: Your Honor on Showtime
How did you and Brian meet? In 1998—Brian was a chef at Cosmos Café, and I waited tables there.
What’s the craziest business idea you’ve ever had? To open a grilled cheese food truck 10 years ago (laughs). I’m like a shotgun; I just spray ideas everywhere, and Brian will pick out the one gem.
What made you push for a grilled cheese concept? It’s a go-to comfort food. We did a ton of research and knew we wanted to do one very specific food really well. We come from a fine dining background, so everyone thought we were crazy. We had no website and barely knew anything about social media. But our lines were 100-deep within the first six months.
What’s your role at Papi Queso and Harriet’s Hamburgers today? I do all the books, like accounting and payroll. I’m more customer service-oriented.
What’s been the biggest challenge of running the business during the pandemic? Takeout wasn’t part of our business model, and suddenly we were takeout-only. We had no online ordering presence. We just posted our phone number to the social universe, and it started ringing.
How much taste-testing does this job require? A lot (laughs). We try all the different sauces, beefs, and buns. I have a grilled cheese at least three times a week—I never get tired of grilled cheese sandwiches.
What’s your favorite handheld food? Tacos. I’m a New Mexico girl.
What’s your favorite adult beverage? Champagne.
What’s your favorite restaurant in Charlotte other than your own? Pio Pio is completely underrated.
What’s next for your restaurant portfolio? We’re in the process of opening more Harriet’s locations; it looks like Myers Park will be the first.