CHARLES CITY, Iowa — At A Shred Above food truck, sandwiches with flavor palettes as far apart as PB&J and a Reuben still find common ground in one key ingredient: cheese.
“I love cheese,” owner Kim Watkins said. “Any kind of cheese, I love to put it in anything.”
A Shred Above is a new gourmet grilled cheese sandwich food truck operating in northeast Iowa. Watkins wanted a niche within the food truck business and found it with hearty sandwiches.
“I’ve always been a food junkie, wanting to cook all the time, but just didn’t have a big enough family to cook for,” Watkins said.
Watkins, who works full time for Zoetis, started planning A Shred Above in 2021 and opened for the first time in July 2022.
“Anybody who’s considering doing a food truck, just take the leap and do it,” she said.
When Watkins is operating the food truck, the day starts with prep work two hours before the truck opens. Watkins said she gets excited each day the food truck is open. As opening time approaches, fans carry the smells of food, and outside a queue begins to form.
“You look out and there’s like 10 people in line because they’re ordering from you,” Watkins said. “It’s a satisfaction because you know people are choosing to come to you. ... They’re coming there for a really good meal, and that’s what I want to give them.”
Watkins’ crowd-favorite offering is a chicken bacon ranch sandwich topped with a blend of three cheeses and homemade ranch sauce. She said she has been complimented on her Reuben as well with comments that it was the best Reuben the customers have ever had.
Watkins started developing her sandwiches through trial and error with friends and family.
“I can’t tell you how many days we took of just saying, ‘Hey, come on over. We’re grilling tonight. Let’s try these seven cheeses and see what kind of sandwich we can make out of them,’” she said.
Watkins uses approximately five different cheeses in her sandwiches: mozzarella, sharp cheddar, Gouda, Brie and Muenster. She said one of the challenges of creating grilled cheese sandwiches is figuring out the melting points of different cheeses and how to work them into a sandwich so that the cooking of the sandwich and melting of the cheese align well.
The main sandwiches in Watkins’ classic yet creative menu include the aforementioned chicken bacon ranch and Reuben sandwiches, ham and Swiss, the Cuban and a classic grilled cheese.
“I have a very concrete menu right now, but I don’t want to be stale,” Watkins said. “We’re constantly trying new things. We will continue to keep trying new things just because I love sampling.”
Watkins also has tried various sandwiches that have been seasonal, which include a pizza sandwich featuring pepperoni and mozzarella on garlic toast; a mac and cheese sandwich with mac and cheese, bacon and barbecue sauce; and the Hawaiian featuring ham with pureed pineapple mixed with honey mustard. Some of her sweeter sandwiches include apple with Gouda, Brie with fig spread on raisin or cinnamon bread, and a s’mores sandwich featuring white bread, granola, Brie and chocolate chips. Some of her kid-focused sandwiches have included a grilled peanut butter and banana sandwich and a grilled cheese, peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
“I want (customers) to be very satisfied,” Watkins said. “(I) want them to be like, ‘Wow, I can’t get that sandwich anywhere else.’”
She also has started offering pancake tacos which feature cream cheese, cheese cake, fruit and whipped cream. Another choice is a candy bar pancake taco.
Her truck has become successful to the point Watkins has to turn away potential outings. Currently, the truck is out and about two to four days a week in a 30-60 mile radius of its homebase in Charles City. Once a month on Sundays, A Shred Above goes to the central park in town alongside 10 other trucks for food truck day.
Watkins operates the truck with her parents, three good friends, employees and occasionally her grandson. Currently, Watkins has attended all but one of her food truck’s outings, but starting next year, she said she is going to attend less of the food truck’s events.
A Shred Above appears in small towns and weddings and has even been present at Watkins’ grandson’s elementary graduation.
“We cooked for his whole class, and that was really rewarding for me,” she said.
Watkins sources her cheeses for her sandwiches through meat lockers and Fairway Foods. She buys large blocks and shreds most of the cheese the day before an outing. A few of her sandwiches use sliced cheeses, but most use shredded.
Watkins’ grandfather was a dairy farmer, and Watkins said she misses milking the dairy cows. As a business owner, she wants to support the dairy community.
“I’ve always been a dairy lover,” she said. “I just love supporting everybody. We’re a small business. We want people to support us, so we want to support them too.”
Eventually, Watkins said she is interested in partnering with a local dairy farm to promote their farm and their cheese.
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