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ON THE MENU — I Heart Mac & Cheese opens in Port Arthur

Jennifer and Jonathan Barnett brought an East Coast franchise to Southeast Texas.

I Heart Mac & Cheese, 3550 Jimmy Johnson Blvd., Suite A, celebrated its grand opening Saturday, bringing ounces of ooey, gooey, cheesiness to Port Arthur.

The Fort Lauderdale, Florida, franchise specializes in customizable macaroni and cheese bowls, specialty grilled cheese dishes and a hearty cup of mini chocolate chip cookies.

Jonathan Barnett, 44, who also owns The Feed Store in Port Neches, previously told The News he found out about the franchise while on vacation last year in Florida.

“I absolutely love the concept and everything about the amazing I Heart Mac & Cheese brand,” he said. “When my wife Jennifer and I decided to go down to south Florida to try it I told her if it was decent I would be interested in opening up a franchise. Well, it far exceeded our expectations. We were hooked as soon as we tasted everything.”

The menu follows a fast and casual concept, leaving the limits to the imagination of the customers.

Endless options include choosing the base, the sauce, the protein, vegetables and cheese with vegan, gluten-free and keto selections.

Unique grilled cheese sandwiches, salads, mac bites and desserts are also available.

“My entire family loves mac and cheese,” Barnett said. “I don’t know anybody who doesn’t. This gives you so many different varieties, and an option that gives it an entirely unique experience.”

I Heart Mac & Cheese offers a cup of mini chocolate chip cookies for dessert. (Courtesy photo)

Christan Russell, who visited the restaurant during July 10’s soft opening, said she tried a little bit of everything.

“I got the build-your-own pasta bowl with classic cheese sauce,” she said. “I added jalapenos, scallions and white cheddar with short rib. It was delicious.”

Russell said her mom ordered the Philly short rib pasta bowl.

“She loved hers also,” she said. “We shared some buffalo mac bites and lobster mac bites. They were delicious. I preferred the buffalo to the lobster, but I’m excited to try different variations.”

Originally set to open in mid- to late April, the restaurant’s grand opening was halted due to the difficulties of COVID-19.

Nonetheless, the Port Neches couple said the first two days were amazing.

Taking to the restaurant’s Facebook page, the pair announced two things: they were wiped out and the community is overflowing “with some pretty amazing people in it.”

The Barnetts posted that the overwhelming response caused the restaurant to close Sunday operations to regroup, restock and rejuvenate.

“It has been an absolute blast y’all…” the post read. “We are constantly looking for areas in which we can improve, so that we can provide the very best experience for you awesome folks.”

I Heart Mac & Cheese offers customizable pasta bowl options. (Courtesy photo)

The Port Arthur location is only the second restaurant to open in Texas, with the College Station location being the first to open in January.

The Barnetts expressed interested in spreading the franchise to Orange County and Lake Charles, Louisiana.

I Heart Mac & Cheese is open seven days a week from 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. To-go orders are currently not available and masks must be worn to enter the establishment.

Hand sanitizers are available for all guests and employee’s temperatures are check everyday before work.

Morgan Guillory and her boyfriend Devin Garner were the first customers to visit the restaurant on Friday. (Courtesy photo)

Barnett said he is excited to see some new faces and customers.

“We are family owned and operated,” he said. “We have long roots and generations from this area. We are all honored to be able to serve the community we all grew up in and absolutely love. Just give us a try and you will be happy that you did.”

For more information, or to see a menu, visit “I Heart Mac & Cheese – Port Arthur, TX” on Facebook.