Former Military Fire Chief Cooks Up New Restaurant Concept

Grilled cheese is one of the classic comfort foods. It’s hard to go wrong with warm melted cheese smothered between two pieces of bread that have been grilled to perfection. 

But sometimes you need to let your hair down and indulge in something a little more decadent; like a grilled cheese with diced chicken tenders, bacon, mac-n-cheese, sharp cheddar cheese, and tater tots. 

That is just one of the mouthwatering sandwiches that will be on the menu at Crimson Melt when it opens its doors in Oklahoma City this spring. Owned by Ashontay and Cori Owens, Crimson Melt is a new first responder, military veteran firefighter inspired restaurant concept offering gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches (Crimson Melts) and mind-bending milkshakes. 

Ashontay first found his groove in the kitchen while serving in the U.S. Air Force. During different deployments and duty installations, he would whip up new culinary creations to feed his fellow service members. 

“I just became a heck of a cook,” he said. 

But it didn’t stop there. Ashontay and his wife started a family tradition where every Saturday they’d take their kids to the deli to pick out different ingredients to make grilled cheese. They also owned a commercial milkshake machine and began making extravagant desserts. 

Embarking on a new mission 

After retiring from the military and his role as a fire chief, Ashontay was ready for something new. In March 2022, he decided to share his flair for over-the-top grilled cheeses and milkshakes and open his own restaurant.  

Ashontay got right to work securing a business license and developing his own brand and marketing identity. The next step was purchasing a building, but obtaining financing proved to be a challenge. 

“Nobody was working with me when it came to funding,” Ashontay explained. “People said I didn’t have any experience or wanted to know how much collateral I had. Nobody would give me the time of day.” 

Eventually, Ashontay went on the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) website to seek financing and was connected with CRF. 

“CRF walked me through process and let me know what to expect,” Ashontay said. “They were super instrumental in making sure I had all of my documents in order. It was a great and seamless experience.” 

In December 2022, the Owens received an SBA 7(a) loan from CRF to make improvements to the building; purchase furniture, fixtures, and equipment; and for working capital. Now, they are in the process of building out their vision: an old school, vintage firehouse-themed restaurant where people can hang out, watch sports, and socialize. 

A commitment to service 

The Owens will also incorporate their passion for philanthropy into the business. When he decided to open a restaurant, Ashontay also launched his own foundation called the Folds of the Flame Foundation. 

The foundation’s focus is to combat military and first responder suicide, and to provide services for the children of parents who are no longer with them. A portion of Crimson Melt’s sales will go to the foundation. 

From the military to the firehouse, to a double master’s degree in clinical counseling and human services – Ashontay has had many endeavors in his life. As he prepares to begin the next chapter in his professional career, Ashontay offered a few words of wisdom for other aspiring entrepreneurs. 

“If you have a dream you have to go for it, otherwise it’s just going to pass you by,” he said. “We only have a limited time on this planet, so you better make the best use of your time.” 

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