While the goal is to serve the macaroni and cheese that grandma used to make, the menu at Mr. Mac’s offers versions of the classic comfort food that you won’t find in grandma’s recipe file.
Knowing they wanted to go into business together, Valerie Anderson and her brother Patrick Cain sat at the dinner table discussing possibilities. Realizing they were both hungry, the pair shared the same thought: they wished someone would cook them a macaroni casserole.
“We then realized there was a need in the world for someone to cook a macaroni and cheese casserole for all of us,” Anderson said.
They opened Mr. Mac’s on Hooksett Road in Manchester on Nov. 17.
“It’s a learning curve; we have been learning each step as we do it,” Anderson said.
Both are natives of Miami. Cain hails from the corporate world, with many of his prior jobs involving international travel, and Anderson recently wrapped up 30 years in human resources and hospital administration. Cain had lived in Nashua 25 years ago, and while he said he enjoyed the state, he had never really been outside the Gate City. Anderson had never made it to the Granite State until she realized she wanted to be closer to family. Cain wanted to be closer to his daughters in Connecticut. Upon arriving in the Granite State to visit Plymouth for a summer, Cain and Anderson began looking for a spot to house their venture.
“With the idea catching fire, it was really inspiring — you just go,” Anderson said.
“Opening a business, we thought we would have the best chance of success in Manchester,” Anderson said.
Southern New Hampshire University students, many in the culinary program, play a major role in the operations at Mr. Mac’s, the siblings said. Students working at the restaurant, along with all other employees, have a hand in recipe development and marketing and are invited to all business meetings.“It is not Valerie and I sitting in our office saying ‘This is the way this will happen.’ … We said that there is no operating manual; we will write that together with [our staff],” Cain said.
All mac dishes are oven-baked and ready to go in five minutes.
“It’s not fast food … we prepare so that can happen,” Anderson said adding that bechamel (a white sauce of milk, flour and butter) is prepared in-house, which allows staff to share ingredients with customers who have allergy concerns.
During recipe development, tests were done on a variety of cheeses to see which ones browned best, how they melted, how much oil they produced. Anderson and Cain selected Cabot cheese. Barilla is their pasta of choice.
“We are really shooting to have the dish that grandma made; we are not cutting corners with the ingredients,” Cain said.
And ingredients are aplenty at Mr. Mac’s as customers opting to create their own mac dish have their choice of 11 cheeses, 10 veggies, eight sauces and 11 meats.
Classic All American Mac (elbow noodles and cheddar) reigns as the eatery’s best seller, Anderson said. Cain said he has been surprised how quickly the “Lobstah” Mac has taken off, as he is still used to thinking of the crustacean as a special-occasion item.
“It is not uncommon for people to order a large lobster mac to go,” Cain said.
Rounding out the rest of the menu are the cheeseburger, four cheese, buffalo chicken, Philly cheese steak, chicken cordon bleu, tuna, cajun, sweet chili chicken, Mediterranean, Carbonara, Scampi and Papa’s Mac (a pizza-inspired dish).
Cain said there are two types of mac: spoon mac and fork mac. Spoon mac is a soupy dish, while fork mac is a casserole solid enough to cut into squares. “What we wanted to do was be right in the middle,” Cain said adding that during a busy lunch hour the customer spoon-to-fork ratio was dead even.
Salads are “make your own” at Mr. Mac’s and customers may select their own veggies, cheeses, meats and dressings. Anderson said the salads are a nice addition to the takeout offerings at the eatery.
“When busy parents do not have a lot of time to cook but want a nice meal for their children that is not pizza or subs, they can order a nice mac and cheese casserole but also a nice green salad; a complete meal that they could feel good about serving their family,” Anderson said.
Cain called pizza the “closest business model” to this restaurant, as each mac has different themes and different toppings. Mr. Mac’s, he said, will soon offer delivery service, using pizza boxes to transport the cheesy dishes. The boxes will be taken on test runs to determine which will maintain the consistency of the dish during delivery.
“We want to make sure we are delivering in the right heating unit, so we are not delivering a soggy mess,” Cain said.
While Cain and Anderson are thrilled about the positive response they have received from the community, they can’t wait to become more active members of the community. The pair hopes to start working with local charities and civic organizations as soon as possible.
“We have lots of things in play here,” Cain said. “It’s not just a macaroni and cheese restaurant, it’s much, much, more.”