Friendly’s Encroaches on a Bodega Classic

The future feared by chopped cheese lovers has arrived.

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Friendly’s Doritos Cool Ranch ChoppedCheese Burger
Friendly’s Doritos Cool Ranch ChoppedCheese Burger
Photo: Lauren Harkawik

In a move that has largely flown under the radar, Friendly’s now sells a sandwich with both ranch dressing and Cool Ranch Doritos on it. Why isn’t everyone talking about this fast-casual innovation?

Friendly’s, a predominantly Northeastern chain (with a couple locations in Florida) known for its ice cream and, secondarily, its food, typically offers a range of burgers, sandwiches, chicken, and pasta dishes. The first Friendly’s was founded in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1935, and while at one time there were as many as 850 Friendly’s restaurants in operation, by 2020, there were 138 left and the company filed for bankruptcy while vowing to keep most of its remaining locations open. In 2021, Amici Partners acquired the company. At the time, Craig Erlich, president and CEO of Amici Partners, said he looked forward to “creating new programs and menu items to meet the changing needs of our customers.”

In April of this year, the company announced a revamp of the Friendly’s menu. “We want to stay true to this wonderful heritage, while also continuing to evolve,” said Chief Experience Officer Roberto De Angelis at the time. “We are keeping the items guests love, eliminating others, and adding sensational new offerings.”

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Those new offerings included, bafflingly, a burger with a cheese skirt and, perhaps more bafflingly, the Doritos® Cool Ranch® ChoppedCheese Burger. Sensational, indeed.

What is a chopped cheese?

In case you are unaware, the chopped cheese is a famous sandwich that originated in the bodegas of New York City. It’s made from ground beef that has been chopped up and sautéed with peppers and American cheese, served on a hero. In recent years it has risen to fame and, in the process, has inspired a lively discourse about who it belongs to and who can recreate it.

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The sandwich entered the public discussion in part because it was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown in 2014. Then in 2016, Business Insider posted a video of one of its reporters trying a chopped cheese. The video garnered a lot of public criticism from New Yorkers, especially people from Harlem, where the sandwich originated. Controversy was again stirred up in 2016 when it was announced that April Bloomfield’s upscale butcher shop, White Gold, would feature a $15 chopped cheese on its menu.

The same year, First We Feast produced a 20-minute documentary about the history of the sandwich and its place in New York culture, which is worth a watch. The documentary included Hajji’s, the Harlem bodega where the sandwich is said to have originated, as well as bodegas in other boroughs that make their own version. It also featured fans of the chopped cheese, with a lot of the focus on its growing popularity. Financial accessibility was a part of that conversation: At a bodega, the sandwich cost $4 or $5. As rapper Bodega Bamz says toward the end of the film, if restaurants started selling it for more, would bodegas raise the price, too?

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Not to mention the ways those restaurants might ruin the sandwich. In the documentary, journalist Speedy Morman jokes about the sandwich being sold in Williamsburg, a notoriously gentrified neighborhood in Brooklyn, for $11.

“I know Williamsburg is fucking the chopped cheese up,” he says. “They are trashing the chopped cheese. The fact that Williamsburg is stealing the chopped cheese and selling it for 11 cash doesn’t surprise me. It’s probably on some artisan roll, has bum ass feta cheese, a spread of hummus, a little quinoa, kale instead of lettuce.”

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The Friendly’s sandwich, which is priced at $13.49, may not have feta or hummus, but it’s certainly a departure from the original, served on ciabatta. It’s officially described as thus:

“This burger is the coolest. It all starts with our classic juicy beef burger chopped with Pepper Jack cheese, onions, jalapenos and salsa, then smothered with ranch dressing and topped with COOL RANCH® tortilla chips. All packed inside a perfectly grilled ciabatta roll.”

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So, has Friendly’s ruined a good thing?

A fast casual chopped cheese taste test

I tried the sandwich.

Normally, I’d focus here on taste test results. And I will share that my initial take was that the Cool Ranch Doritos were overwhelming and dominated the flavor experience. I wouldn’t call it pleasurable, but I also took a few more bites than I needed to.

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The thing is, though, I ate this sandwich in New England, where a lot of people are going to try it for the first time, having never had a real chopped cheese. So I don’t actually think my taste test notes matter that much in the context of this particular sandwich except to say, sure, if you like a sandwich with chopped ground beef, cheese, and Cool Ranch Doritos and you have $14 to spend, go ahead and eat it at Friendly’s. But having immersed myself in learning about the chopped cheese prior to tasting one, I am kind of surprised Friendly’s went for this, and that the restaurant even calls it a chopped cheese (or ChoppedCheese), and that hardly anyone noticed.

The only real review of this sandwich I found in my research is perhaps what says it better than I ever could. In a 27-minute video, Instagrammer, YouTuber, and TikTok star Dave Schratz tries the Friendly’s Doritos® Cool Ranch® ChoppedCheese Burger, alongside several other menu items. The entire video is worth a watch—I could watch Schratz eat food for days, which thankfully his library of content would allow me to do—but his reaction to the chopped cheese is worth highlighting.

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“Calling this a chopped cheese is a dis to anyone who’s had a real chopped cheese,” says Schratz, after taking a few bites. “If it didn’t have the name chopped cheese, I probably would have said it was pretty good. The taste isn’t that bad. If you put this in front of me, I would eat it. But I’ll say this: the sandwich is, like, $14. Don’t ever call this chopped cheese again because of that.”