Miami-based chef Michael Blum came up with the concept of building your own mac and cheese. The first I Heart Mac and Cheese restaurant was conceived in 2016 in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, and since then, it has become a nationwide franchise. Here, Bonita Riddle, manager of the Hoover franchise, gives an insider scoop on the “mac and cheese” business.

When choosing where to open the next location of I Heart Mac and Cheese, how did the owners decide on Hoover?

Bobby Reuse and I first attempted to open an I Heart Mac and Cheese location in my hometown of Decatur, Alabama. We shifted gears to focus on Hoover since that is where Bobby is from. I ended up moving to Hoover to manage the restaurant, and on Dec. 21, 2022, we began our relationship with the brand.

What are some fan favorites on the menu, and which do you think newcomers should try first?

The signature bowl we sell seems to be our chicken parm bowl. We sell a good bit of our best of both worlds grilled cheese, which features our slow-cooked short rib and barbecue sauce along with white and yellow American cheeses. We also just released our new flatbreads, where you can build your own flatbread sandwich, and this has been popular, too.

What is the most unique item on the menu?

Our most unique item we sell would probably be our cheesecake bites, which are sold cold with chocolate, strawberry or caramel dipping sauces.

What about I Heart Mac and Cheese’s menu makes it stand out from other similar businesses in the area?

You can create your own meal the way you want. We have build-your-own bowls, build-your-own grilled cheeses and build-your-own flatbreads.

What is your favorite part of your career?

My favorite part of being in the “mac and cheese” business is meeting and greeting customers and making sure they leave full and happy. They, along with all of my wonderful employees, make working fun.

I Heart Mac and Cheese is located at 2503 John Hawkins Parkway Suite 101. It is open Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-8 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; and Sunday, noon-7 p.m. For more information, visit