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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 12/ 8/2010

Rebel Heroes dies, Big Cheese is born

By Tim Carman

Tan Nguyen's Rebel Heroes truck is no more. (Michael Temchine for The Washington Post)

Editor's Note -- This is Tim Carman's first post for the Going Out Guide. He recently joined The Post's staff to write about food.

On Oct 8, the Rebel Heroes food truck sent a message to its 2,700-plus followers on Twitter, encouraging them to arrive early at the corner of North Moore Street and Wilson Boulevard in Rosslyn. "Last chance of the season!" the Tweet warned.

The announcement proved to be something of an understatement.

That same day, the owners informed Arlington County that they were ceasing operations. Nearly a month later, on Nov. 10, they would sell their vehicle to Patrick Rathbone, a veteran restaurant manager who will officially bury the memory of Rebel Heroes next week when he rolls out his new truck, The Big Cheese.

Rebel Heroes' Tan Nguyen couldn't be reached for comment, but Rathbone, a former general manager at the  Cosi locations in Rosslyn and Virginia Square, says the owners offered to sell him the entire concept. The Rebel Heroes truck, with its built-in sandwich refrigerator and flattop, suited Rathbone's purposes. Rebel Heroes' lusty, modern approach to pressed Cuban and Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches, however, did not. "I don't eat meat," Rathbone says.

If Rebel Heroes slowly wheezed to death in private, away from the many bloggers and social media devotees who follow these motorized lunch wagons, then The Big Cheese plans to slowly enter the street-vendor market with a handful of gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. Rathbone will launch his truck next week, either in Arlington or the District, with six gooey sandwich options, most of which are built from cheeses sold by Cowgirl Creamery and breads from Lyon Bakery.

Each of Rathbone's sandwiches takes its name -- at least in part -- from the featured cheese. The "Mt. Fuji," for example, is layered with both Fuji apples and Cowgirl's Mt. Tam triple-cream cheese. The "Ashed Log" is a sandwich that combines Pipe Dreams goat cheese of the same name with tarragon and tomato, while the "Barely Buzzed" delivers a small jolt from the Beehive brand cheddar cheese, whose rind is rubbed with a combination of ground espresso beans, lavender and vegetable oil. Each sandwich will sell for $6. "More or less," the owner says.

To help customers ward off the December chill, Rathbone will also sell bowls of tomato soup, the classic partner to any wintertime grilled cheese sandwich. The small will go for $2 a bowl and the large for $4. And what about Rathbone? How will he stay warm over the coming weeks?

"The flattop definitely heats up the truck," he says.

You can follow The Big Cheese truck on Twitter.

By Tim Carman  | December 8, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Restaurants  
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I thought that they stopped to film a food network reality show. Food Network was filming them this summer.

What's the deal? Maybe they didn't like the food truck lifestyle?

Welcome to the Post Tim! Super excited you are still writing in DC.

- Chad
EatMore DrinkMore

Posted by: cjc196 | December 8, 2010 8:37 AM | Report abuse

Thanks but no thanks. I can make grilled cheese at home. Banh mi on the other hand is so hard to come by.

Posted by: mediajunky | December 8, 2010 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Wow. I'm surprised. I thought their food was pretty good and it always seemed popular. Hope we more about what happened.

Posted by: ghokee | December 8, 2010 1:37 PM | Report abuse

I don't know whether to be happy (grilled cheese!) or super sad (no more banh mi!--and they had 3 vegetarian sandwiches!).
Rebel Heroes was such a success--and so great for Arlington, and it is not clear where the big cheese will be parking yet.
I hope you'll be on this case further.

Posted by: 1shot | December 8, 2010 1:55 PM | Report abuse

Let's hope the third graders that designed the Big Cheese website are not the ones preparing the food on the truck.

Posted by: FrancoNiell | December 8, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Great reporting, Tim! Rebel Heroes was a great truck, so I was surprised to see it close up shop. But, fancy grilled cheese sandwiches definitely sound fun.

It's interesting that Cosi turned down the offer to buy the truck. I guess brick & mortar restaurants really don't want to get involved in the food truck industry, and would rather complain about food trucks all the time!

PS: The Rebel Heroes tweet was dated on Oct 7, not Oct 8 like you mention in the article.

Posted by: FoodTruckFiestacom | December 8, 2010 3:31 PM | Report abuse

Funny, I saw the Big Cheese truck just this morning. I think it was on Wilson Blvd in Clarendon.

Posted by: BadMommy1 | December 8, 2010 4:51 PM | Report abuse

Man, now I got a taste for a grilled cheese...heading to Five Guys for one

Posted by: kahlua87 | December 8, 2010 5:20 PM | Report abuse

mr. foodtruckfiesta, read the article again and you will see that cosi never turned down anything.

Posted by: FrancoNiell | December 9, 2010 7:47 AM | Report abuse

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