Food & Drink

A Friendly Bread’s Sourdough Grilled Cheese Melts Hearts in Baltimore and Beyond

On National Grilled Cheese Day, owner Lane Levine dishes about the frozen product taking over grocery store shelves.

In perhaps the most ironic origin story ever, Lane Levinethe owner of B-More Kitchen-based baking operation A Friendly Breadgrew up hating bread and cheese. “The biggest reason was that it always got so soggy,” he says.

As it turns out, he just needed to find the right recipe: “Sourdough convinced me to like bread,” Levine says of his experience sampling the crusty loaves later in life. “I fell in love with how it tastes and how it chews.”

Unsurprisingly, sourdough is now the company’s, ahem, bread and butter.

Founded in 2017, A Friendly Bread started out by selling its sourdough loaves, in varieties like pecan cranberry and pumpkinseed rosemary, at local farmers markets and delivering them to doorsteps. But now, Levine’s team focuses on wholesale production of its frozen Sourdough Grilled Cheese, which lines shelves at more than 30 different food markets in states across the Mid-Atlantic and beyond.

“When I first started the bread business, a mentor of mine encouraged me to always be thinking about an alternative take,” Levine says.

Locally, you can find the cheesy sandwiches at retailers like Rooftop Hot Local & Organic Market in Highlandtown, Streets Market in Charles Village, The Fresh Market in Pikesville, and Eddie’s of Roland Park. Plus, in a big get for the company, the sandwiches will roll out at Giant Food stores beginning April 17.

The idea for the melty creations cemented during Levine’s farmers market days, when regulars would share that his loaves were perfect for homemade grilled cheeses. Hoping to reach customers outside of Baltimore, he started toying with recipes and even entered one of them in (and won) B-More Kitchen’s Battle of the Brands food competition in 2019. Ultimately, he landed on country sourdough with sharp cheddar and mozzarella; challah with Swiss and mozzarella; and cinnamon raisin with brie and mozzarella—all of which are now sold in stores. 

“I think grilled cheese should be sophisticated and exciting,” Levine says. “I don’t really have a nostalgic connection to the classic Kraft Singles with Wonder Bread.”

Not only are the heat-and-eat snacks gaining a reputation for their flavor, but also for their convenience. According to Levine’s instructions, they’re ready after warming in the toaster or on the stovetop for only a few minutes, and pair well with a soup or salad for lunch or dinner. (Some even like to eat the cinnamon raisin flavor for breakfast on-the-go.)

In the months ahead, the baking team hopes to unveil new flavors like a jalapeño grilled cheese with gruyere, as well as varieties that incorporate their garlic asiago, sundried tomato, and olive loaves.

For now, Levine is looking forward to getting his grilled cheeses in as many grocery carts as possible.

“Giant was the grocery store I ended up tagging along with my mom growing up, back in the time when moms were still writing checks at the grocery store,” he says. “It feels like a maturing of the business, like we’re finally finding our place in the larger market. This feels like the year of the grilled cheese.”