Flavor and kick: Chicago Treats food truck in Ames is a taste of home for owner Cle Reed
Cle Reed and his wife, Krista Flowers, have overcome hardship during the pandemic, but their attitudes are optimistic as they work to build business for their Chicago Treats food truck, which specializes in dishes from Reed’s Windy City hometown.
Reed and Flowers started the food truck in 2019.
“I’d renewed my license and was setting up for Iowa State students coming back from spring break in 2020,” Reed said. “As soon as I had my location all set, Iowa State announced that students weren’t coming back for the semester.”
Reed had invested significant money in getting ready for the season. He said the summer went pretty well as they were able to observe COVID-19 protocols and serve customers. When it started to get cold, business dropped significantly.
Just as Reed was preparing for his last week of the season in December and was banking on doing well, the pipes in the food trailer froze, closing him down.
“Pretty much from there, it started going downhill because we couldn’t open. We ended up slipping further and further into the hole,” Reed said. “We ended up homeless. We grabbed our last 600 bucks and grabbed the camper, and that’s how we’ve been working it.
“We’ve had blessing after blessing after that. We had family come through for us. We joined Body of Christ Church in Ames. And our lives have turned 180. So many people came through and cleared the way for us.”
As things started to open up after COVID-19 closures, good things started to happen for Chicago Treats. Winning the Nevada Masonic Lodge food truck challenge this spring gave Reed more than a trophy, which he proudly displays at his food trailer. It also gave him a positive kickstart for the season.
“We are still working to line up events for this summer,” Flowers said.
Reed and Flowers, who are often joined at Chicago Treats by Flowers’ brother David, are looking for a place to regularly park their food truck. Until they do, they are available by request and for catering events.
The Tribune talked to Chicago Treats Last week while they were serving by invitation at the Hunziker Property Management.
“When I first got to Ames, I didn’t really have anything to cling to," Reed said. "Whenever I go back home, my mom cooks all kinds of great stuff. And I thought, ‘You know what? This is what I’m missing. I needed a taste of home when I was feeling homesick.”
Reed moved to Ames to attend Iowa State in 2013.
“I was feeling culture shock and homesick, but anytime I could make myself a Maxwell Street Polish, it would take me back,” Reed said of the sausage sandwich that’s popular in Chicago.
Reed is also working at Whatcha Smokin’ BBQ near Luther, which also keeps his cooking skills honed.
For Chicago Treats dishes, Reed’s mom, Kim Chambers, is an inspiration for the recipes he develops. He uses her recipe for his fried chicken, he said.
“My mom was really adamant in telling me that you can’t pre-fry the chicken,” Reed said. “You have to marinate it and then bread it right then when it’s ordered.”
“It’s super fresh,” Flowers said. “We don’t like to consider ourselves fast food. We have our fresh policy that we don’t make more than three meals ahead. Everything is made fresh.”
Reed has a catering portfolio of Chicago dishes and comfort food. Dishes offered from the food truck vary, and customers can check on Facebook for what’s being served.
“I try to challenge myself every time I cook,” Reed said. “It’s about the flavor and the kick to it and how much originality comes with it. That’s what I plan to do with each one. Even though it’s Chicago dishes, it’s all got a little Cle to it.”
Beverages include Liquid Candy, which is house-made juice that might make your jaws tingle. “It’s actually hydrating, even though it’s sweet,” Reed said.
They have a great recipe for homemade lemonade, he said, but they’re using it to help their 3-year-old daughter Evona start a lemonade stand that will sometimes accompany Chicago Treats.
One of Reed’s menu items is the Chicago Dog, an all-beef, quarter-pound hot dog with onions, sweet relish, tomato, mustard and a pickle spear.
The Italian Beef Sandwich, “which is super famous in Chicago,” Reed said, uses beef that he seasons, smokes and marinates in the au jus, then cuts down. Cheese and peppers are added.
“I take the cheese and sprinkle it on the grill top and you get the cheese nice and crunchy,” Reed said. “Then you put that on the bun with the beef on top of it.”
Reed makes a gluten-sensitive version of the sandwich that uses that crunchy cheese as a substitute for the bun.
A nod to Chicago’s deep-dish pizza is Reed’s pizza puffs, available in sausage, pepperoni and cheese varieties.
“I make my own marinara sauce and season it,” he said. “I also make my own all-beef sausage.”
“It’s like a hand-held deep dish,” Flowers said. “It’s got a nice crispy, flaky shell.”
The Maxwell Street Polish is a smoked Polish sausage with 4 to 6 ounces of onions and a strip of mustard.
“It’s simple, but it’s amazing,” Reed said.
The Chicago Treats menu items, which also includes chicken and beef sliders, are available as catering items, too, Flowers said.
“We’re looking for a day-to-day location,” she said. “It would be great to have a place to set up when we’re not catering. We really are only doing catering and events right now until we get invited to park somewhere.”