Johnston entrepreneur opens fast food restaurant during pandemic, cooking up chicken sandwiches inspired by his grandmother

Michael Handstead and his staff pour the comforts of family and food into each chicken sandwich at Charlotte’s Kitchen.

JOHNSTON, Iowa — Michael Handstad named Charlotte’s Kitchen after his grandmother. He wanted to serve chicken sandwiches inspired by her love for family and delicious food.

“We love what we do, you know? We spend 12-24 hours marinating chicken,” Handstad said. “Everything comes in fresh. Our batter is homemade.”

Handstad and his team pour the comforts of food with soul into each chicken sandwich at the new fast food restaurant in Johnston.

“Every flavor is crafted around that sandwich,” he said.

Handstad started by serving desserts, and then he saw an opportunity in 2019 when the pandemic shut down many businesses. 

“You’d see food trucks around town on social media,” he said. “The Chick-Fil-A and Popeyes competition, they’re selling out of fried chicken sandwiches, and I thought, ‘You know what? There’s no food truck in Des Moines selling fried chicken sandwiches, and I bet we can make something way better than Popeyes.'”

RELATED: Des Moines will test Burger King’s Impossible nuggets

Handstad spent the next six months perfecting his fried chicken recipe. When he found one he loved, he got a food truck.

“I saw an opportunity and took advantage of it and jumped on it. And I ended up falling in love with fried chicken. Who would’ve known?”

But he didn’t anticipate some of the challenges unique to the pandemic, like food prices increasing constantly.

“We just have to play it as best we can, how long can we sacrifice at the price we’re doing now until those food costs come down.” Handstad said. “Unfortunately, when I talk to a sales rep. or manufacturer, there is no hope. We’re just going to keep dealing with those rising costs and I have had to do price increases.”

RELATED: This restaurant was designed to be low-staff. COVID mandates meant it had to hire more people.

Handstad tells entrepreneurs to make sure their product is as good as it can be before launching.

“Once you launch it to the market, people will rip you apart, especially in the restaurant business, sometimes people won’t give you a second chance.”

He said creating a good work environment is key.

“Make it a family,” Handstad said. “Keep it inclusive when you start hiring employees. Be kind and make it home and that will really help you retain employees and not working on turnover.”

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