Calling Gayle Voss a Chicago Phenomenon is no exaggeration. Since 2010 she’s been a mainstay at several Chicago and suburban Farmers’ Markets, selling varieties of grilled cheese sandwiches. In 2016 she opened her shop in the Block 37 pedway on State Street. There are judges, politicians and entertainers among her regular customers. Travelers from as far away as Dubai and Shanghai report that they wouldn’t make a business trip to Chicago without stopping at Gayle V’s for some grilled cheese.
“When I was first in business, I was using 10 loaves of bread per week,” Voss reports. “Now I use 50 to 60 loaves per day!”
Did this enterprising woman always dream of selling grilled cheese sandwiches? Not at all! Voss had a home business doing accounting for small businesses. One of her clients was veterinarian Brian Gerloff, who became interested in promoting working dairy farms. He hooked up with farmers Todd and Brenda Aves of Belvidere to start Prairie Pure Cheese, which was sold at area farmers’ markets. Voss began to help selling cheese.
At the popular Green City Market her booth was next to the Bennington Bread of Evanston booth. Nordic Creamery from Westby, WI was selling fresh butter at its booth. “Let’s make some grilled cheese sandwiches,” Voss proposed. The small offering of what is now The Classic sandwich offered at her booth and in her shop, was snapped up in a few minutes. Soon those sandwiches were so popular at the Green City Market that lines would form and Voss needed more and more help making the sandwiches on the spot.
From that small beginning, an amazing network of support of local businesses has grown. “Cheese sandwiches with a mission” laughs Voss. The ingredients for the eight to ten different grilled cheese sandwiches offered at any given time, are all locally sourced. Gayle V’s supports 24 small businesses from this region. If an ingredient isn’t local, she won’t use it. “Customers sometimes ask for avocados,” Gayle remarks. “They aren’t grown in the Midwest, so they can’t be on my sandwiches.”
Voss brings her sandwiches to four different farmers’ markets on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. She spends Fridays at her store. She has 19 employees that help her run her operation like an incredibly well-oiled machine. But it’s clear that this dynamo of a little woman bears the bulk of the labor load. Her husband Gary is her most important behind-the- scenes worker, but he has a full-time job of his own at O’Hare Airport. So Gayle drives out of Union at 4:00 a.m. every morning. “I work so hard,” Voss exclaims, “But I don’t care. I love every minute!”
Voss has been featured in the Chicago Tribune and Northwest Herald. She’s appeared on WGN TV several times. We can all see her in action making her new “Breakfast Club” sandwiches, on WGN’s show “Chicago’s Best” on Sunday evening August 12 at 10 p.m.