FAIRFIELD — Terrence Schuldt decided laying shingles and house construction wasn't his forte.
So he went about creating what he hopes is Iowa's next "best burger."
Schuldt, a Fairfield High School graduate who spent time in Hawaii and California before moving back to Iowa, opened Big Willy's Chicken Dillys in July of last year. Less than a year later, his restaurant is one of the top 10 finalists in the Iowa Beef Council's and Iowa Cattleman's Association's "Best Burger Contest."
"It's very exciting, but the best part is all of our meat is prepared and processed locally," said Schuldt, who gets his beef from Bodart Grassfed Beef in Douds. "The burgers are juicy and cooked to medium-rare."
He believes two of the burgers on the menu — the "B & B Burger" and "Classic Burger" — are capable of winning the contest. However, he will have to wait for the results; both the IBIC and ICA postponed the announcement of the winner because of the new coronavirus, and the winner will be announced at a later date.
"The B & B has a bacon jam and caramelized onions that are made in-house, and the Classic has a chipotle mayo that's also made in-house. When I started the restaurant, I wanted to be as local as possible."
The restaurant also serves chicken sandwiches and several sides, appetizers and salads — almost all made in-house — and has a bar that Schuldt is proud of.
"We've got a full bar, and we make some pretty good cocktails," he said.
Schuldt, who calls himself "Big Willy," is not only the owner of the restaurant, but he's found himself in the kitchen as well. However, the restaurant is currently only offering take-out and delivery services because of the state restriction on mass gatherings.
"Right now I've actually been doing some of the cooking, but usually I'm at the front of the business, and being the bartender," said Schuldt, who has a staff and nine. "We have a head chef and two other cooks. But I kind of do it all, and it's intense. We're definitely busy, but we want to stay in business."
If Big Willy's Chicken Dillys can win the contest, it will be the second Fairfield establishment to do so in the last five years. The Cider House won the contest in 2015.
"We have really good cattle farmers in southeast Iowa," he said. "But the fact that we have our beef prepared and butchered locally is important. Fresh and local is what we believe in."
The 10 nominees for "Iowa's Best Burger"
Allycatz Grubhouse, Denver
Big Schwilly's Chicken Dillys, Fairfield
Birdies, Burgers, & Brews at The Hillcrest, Graettinger
Brady's Pub, Sheldon
BurgerFiend, Cedar Rapids
Lucile's at The Continental Hotel, Centerville
The Buck Snort, Council Bluffs
The Twisted Tail Steakhouse & Saloon, Logan
Troy's Bar and Grill, Earling
Wink's Bar & Grill, West Liberty