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Behind the Plates — Prophet’s Melt Shop

Creative cheese concoctions make eatery unique

Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski Cook Micah Hamilton (left) and Prophet’s Melt Shop owner Evan Kephart work in the kitchen at the eatery, located inside the Altoona Transportation Center, 1231 11th Ave., Altoona.

Postal worker Matt Burns of Altoona delivers mail to the Transportation Center in Downtown Altoona, but he also picks up delicious melty goodness from Prophet’s Melt Shop, a unique specialty sandwich shop focused on grilled cheese.

“I hear the buzz when I’m out delivering. People are talking,” Burns said. “I tell people all the time how good it is. My two favorites are the Breakfast Sandwich and the Buff Chick Sammie.”

Owner Evan Kephart creates the sandwich and soup fare. Each sandwich is created and grilled to the customer’s tastes. The inviting aroma of buttered bread hitting a 400-degree griddle wafts through the transportation center.

In addition to a standard menu, Kephart creates bi-weekly specials that appear on a rotation. His take on a traditional grilled Reuban called The Paddy Melt features homemade Russian dressing. It’s one of several Kephart-created sauces customers can request on a sandwich or use as a dipping sauce for Benzel’s Bretzels, which come as a side.

Customer Jon Wixson also loves the Buff Chick Sammie with ghost pepper sauce. Sometimes he gets it with roasted garlic sauce.

“I love when they have specials with caramelized onions. The carmelized onions make everything better,” he said, as he dipped a bite-sized pretzel into the ghost pepper sauce.

Wixson was eating with Derek Heilmann, a client of his contracting business.

“I’d bring him here every day if he’d let me,” Heilmann said, as he waited for his Buff Chick Sammie with hot sauce. His favorite sandwich is The Swiss Banker, which features Pearl Valley’s award winning Swiss cheese melted on fresh sourdough.

“The Buff Chick Sammie is again our house made marinated chicken drenched with Franks Red Hot Buffalo Sauce, melted with Pearl Valley Munster on Breadworks Sourdough. This one has a bit of a cult following. I have customers that come back again and again, and I can’t talk them into getting anything else on the menu! We feature a number of other sandwiches including a Pepperjack Grilled cheese, a Dill Havarti, and Tuna Melt, and a breakfast sandwich,” Kephart said.

Heilmann is one of the pastors at The Vineyard, a Christian ministry program where Kephart works part-time. Faith is also a critical ingredient in the food he crafts.

“I’ve come to believe deeply that God loves good food,” he said. “My hope is that the food that I serve will give people a taste of what the celebration is going to be like when Christ comes back to make all things new again. So it’s the food that is prophetic and points to the feast we’ll have one day with the King,” he said, explaining the eatery’s name.

One of the spiritual messages of The Vineyard ministry, Kephart said, is sharing how worship and faith is to be lived daily.

“Overall I do my best to honor God by making food that I hope gives others a taste of God’s goodness. That principle, honoring God, influences all my decisions. From how I treat employees, to the quality of food we serve, to our relationships with our suppliers, I’m always striving to live rightly in relationship with God, others, and the world around me.”

Kephart, 30, married Bellwood native Abby Bouslough, an elementary school teacher, two years ago.

“Because we work in ministry on Sundays, we keep Saturday as our day off — as our Sabbath,” Kephart said. “We try to protect that day as much as possible. It’s practical as well as spiritual.”

He’s seen problems arise when new businesses grow too fast or owners become stressed and burned out.

“(God’s) hands are all over the place with this,” he said. “We’ve had tremendous support from family and friends” who have helped spread the Prophet’s Melt Shop’s reputation. They also started the business debt-free thanks to an advance on an inheritance from a still-living family member — “a true blessing.”

Sallie Fleming of Altoona heard about the new eatery from her son who is a friend of Kephart’s. She works as an office manager in a physical rehabilitation office in Duncansville, so her trips are limited to when she has a weekday off. On a day she was working a later shift, she picked up several of the “Easy Breezy Garlic Cheesy” sandwiches to share with coworkers.

“They loved it. I’d been talking about how great their sandwiches are, so I wanted to show them,” Fleming said. “I have always liked garlic bread, but this sandwich added a crazy amount of melted cheese in the middle and then was served with Marinara sauce and was amazing.”

While she’s tried many items on the menu, her favorite is The Co-Jack, billed on the menu as the shop’s “flagship grilled cheese sandwich.” It features Marbled Colby Jack cheese melted on sourdough bread with “plenty of salted butter.”

In addition to The Co-Jack, another top seller, Kephart said, is the tomato bisque soup. “It’s a classic combination — grilled cheese and tomato soup,” Kephart said. “So we always have the tomato bisque. As the days are warming up, we’ve noticed soup sales fall off a little, but we’ll always have the tomato bisque.”

Among favorite sandwiches are the CBS Special and The Buff Chick Sammie.

“The CBS is our house made marinated chicken, Chopped Bacon, and Pearl Valley’s Award winning Swiss drizzled with Ranch dressing, served on Breadworks thick cut sourdough. I would say next to The Co-Jack, it’s our most popular,” he said.

Much of the cheese Kephart uses is produced by Pearl Valley Cheese in Fresno, Ohio. The farm is owned by his friend Dan Burch’s family. When the young men went on a cross-country camping road trip to California.

“Before we left, they loaded us up with tons and tons of cheese in a cooler. So from Ohio to California, all we ate was fast food and grilled cheese. It was on the trip that I first made some of the sandwiches that are now on the menu, and I’m still using Pearl Valley Cheese on most of my sandwiches,” Kephart said.

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