GREENPOINT — After a childhood filled with grilled cheese sandwiches and Catholic schools, Greenpoint resident Meg Sheehan found a calling that would blend her two passions.
"I was having a conversation about a woman who thought she saw Mary on her toast and sold it on eBay for a crazy amount of money," Sheehan said of the sandwich that sold for $28,000 in 2004.
"I was like, 'Oh people want a religious experience like that so badly they'd pay for it.' I thought someone should make a grilled cheese maker and put Jesus' face on it."
So Sheehan did just that — She created "Grilled Cheesus."
The Jesus-imprinting sandwich press — which she conceived of in 2009 and started selling with her business partner Rob Corso this summer — has blown up in popularity this holiday season, Sheehan said.
Urban Outfitters now sells the kitschy holiday gift online, design site Fab.com included it on a "Secret Santa" pop-up sale, and the site Sneekpeeq will feature the press as part of a holiday sale next week, Sheehan said.
Plus Sheehan and her partner sell their product at Williamsburg's Brooklyn Night Bazaar, where they hand out free hot "Grilled Cheesus" sandwiches to lure hungry shoppers.
"I think it's not only because the figure is related to Christmas directly," said Sheehan, 32, "but also the product itself is a gift... It came to me as a play on words."
The holy face on toasted bread has drawn many laughs, but Sheehan said she has no intention of mocking her religion.
"We want it to appeal to everybody," she said.
"Somebody could be like, 'oh that's hysterical' or 'I want to serve that to my grandkids because I want to give them a sandwich with Jesus on it,'" said Sheehan, who studied business at Loyola University in Chicago and works in product design for Coach handbags.
"My parents and grandparents are very religious," she said. "And they're always asking me, 'Can you make us some Grilled Cheesus sandwiches?'"
The press, which is manufactured in China and sells for $39 on the Grilled Cheesus website, works with any kind of bread and cheese — but Sheehan has her all-time beloved combination.
"When I was growing up, all I'd eat every morning was two grilled cheese sandwiches," she said. "My favorite is always whole wheat bread and deli American cheese."
Sheehan's press has also been a hit at the International Christian Retail Show in Florida this summer, she noted.
"People thought it was a great tool, a way to get Jesus out there," she said of the carefully designed imprint, resembling an "apparition" rather than a "cartoon image" of Jesus.
"Not every sandwich you make looks exactly the same, some people see him and others have a hard time seeing him," she said.
"For most people who have that experience, like of seeing Jesus in the bark of a tree, it's like you have to look for it in order to see it."
And for Sheehan — who has made sandwiches for the Greenpoint Reformed Church's food pantry and who plans to donate a portion of her profits to charity — creating the press was a matter of following the light.
"My business partner has been my best friend since we were kids and we both studied business at Loyola," she said. "Every step has led us to the next step."
From her first vision of the sandwich maker, she said, she knew it was right.
"The people who manufactured the George Foreman Grill designed it for us and it came out perfectly the first time," she said. "It was like a sign."