Aiming to please with mac and cheese in Highlands Ranch

Marine Corps vet opens Highlands Ranch eatery


In opening a new Highlands Ranch restaurant, Vu Tran said he will focus on mentoring young staff members, improving the community and, most importantly, providing a menu full of mac and cheese.

On Oct. 13, Tran officially opened I (heart) Mac & Cheese, a franchise that was originally started in Florida.

After opening franchise options nationwide in 2017, I (heart) Mac & Cheese has opened restaurants in 10 states, including Colorado. In Colorado, there are currently two locations, in Highlands Ranch and Denver. Another restaurant is expected to open in Denver later this year.

Vu, a native of Boulder County, said he chose to open his first major business in Highlands Ranch because of the strong community feel that the unincorporated area brings.

“Highlands Ranch is a very tight-knit community,” he said. “I did my research on the community and on the franchise.”

Tran said I (heart) Mac & Cheese has a strong foundation and besides good food, the franchise founders have the same values he wants to bring into Douglas County.

Tran, a Marine Corps veteran, said the new restaurant is not just about serving food and making money. The 34-year-old said he wants to provide a business where young people can work and learn the importance of hard work in America.

With 40 employees on staff, Tran said he will work to teach about the importance of personal, professional and financial growth. Employees of the new restaurant will learn the core principles of values, courage, commitment, and integrity, he said.

Besides setting high standards to develop the young, local workforce, Tran said he has set major goals for himself as well. Tran said he hopes to open more restaurants over the next five years.

Helping to reach his goals is I (heart) Mac & Cheese general manager Pino Chinnel. Chinnel, a Brighton resident, said she has worked with Tran before and respects his goals and guidance.

Tran said bringing Chinnel to help with the new venture is important to his continued success.

Chinnel said the grand opening of I (heart) Mac & Cheese was a success, with lines forming out the door throughout the day. Chinnel said the new location’s first 25 customers received vouchers for one year of free mac and cheese.

Those lucky winners may not get tired of mac and cheese, given the extensive menu the franchise restaurant provides.

Chinnel explained that the menu provides 15 different signature items, including a variety of bowls and sandwich options. An instant customer favorite became the Best of Both Worlds sandwich. The menu item consists of mac and cheese, short ribs, BBQ sauce along with white and sharp cheddar sandwiched between two slices of sourdough toast.

Chinnel said the great thing about the expansive menu is that there is something for everyone, from vegan and keto options to gluten free dishes.

Through the “create your own” menu options, Chinnel said customers will be able to get creative in developing various bowls and sandwiches.

I (heart) Mac & Cheese is located at 1100 Sergeant Jon Stiles Drive, Unit 108 in Highlands Ranch. For more information, visit the website at


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