Breaking News Bar

Thrill of the Grill: Sloan Street Market owner's charcoal cooking a Saturday staple

  • Brett Allen, owner of Sloan Street Market, takes baby back ribs off the grill early Saturday morning.

    Brett Allen, owner of Sloan Street Market, takes baby back ribs off the grill early Saturday morning.
    Travis DeNeal photo

  • Allen displays a platter of baby back ribs and bratwurst hot off the grill.

    Allen displays a platter of baby back ribs and bratwurst hot off the grill.
    Travis DeNeal photo

  • Allen cooks a grillful of hamburgers on one of the two smokers he uses to grill food every Saturday morning at Sloan Street Market.

    Allen cooks a grillful of hamburgers on one of the two smokers he uses to grill food every Saturday morning at Sloan Street Market.
    Travis DeNeal photo

  • Sloan Street Market employee Kelsey Agin is pictured behind the counter at Sloan Street Market.

    Sloan Street Market employee Kelsey Agin is pictured behind the counter at Sloan Street Market.
    Travis DeNeal photo

  • Sloan Street Market employee Dustin Fulkerson assembles pork burgers.

    Sloan Street Market employee Dustin Fulkerson assembles pork burgers.
    Travis DeNeal photo

 
BY TRAVIS DENEAL tdeneal@dailyregister.com
Posted on 3/20/2017, 5:00 AM

HARRISBURG -- It's early Saturday morning, the sun is just above the horizon and a man in a cooking apron holding tongs is enveloped in a thick cloud of savory-smelling smoke between two enormous charcoal grills.

Brett Allen, owner of Sloan Street Market at 628 W. Sloan St., carefully opens the lid of one grill, flips some bratwurst, then closes the lid. He turns to the other charcoal cooker and repeats the process, only this time it's baby back ribs and turkey breasts.

The smoke gently wafts down the block, serving as a sensory-enhanced advertisement to passersby on foot or driving with a window down.

This Saturday may be warmer and sunnier than others, but regardless of rain, snow, uncomfortable temperatures or wind, Allen will produce a wide range of grilled meats -- much to the enjoyment of many local residents.

Those driving past may honk, wave, or depending on traffic, slow down and yell a greeting to Allen. Others pull off of Sloan Street and park.

"Any pork burgers ready?" one young woman asks Allen. When he says there are, she's in and out of the small corner grocery celebrating its 60th anniversary this year within a couple of minutes.

The pork burgers are a perennial favorite. For $2 a sandwich, a hungry customer gets a patty on a bun Allen has ground himself from premium cuts of pork and spiced with his own brand of seasoning. Jumbo hot dogs are also available for $2, and brats and grilled bologna sandwiches are $2.25. Whole chickens are $9, baby back ribs are $21 and half pork loins are $30.

The quantities and even the offerings vary from week to week, a juggling act Allen has balanced since he started grilling on Saturdays in 1989. He's rarely missed a Saturday since.

"I had to miss one time when I was just deathly sick, and there was no way I needed to be cooking," he says as he continues to monitor the food on both grills. "The other time was when my daughter got married."

Vacations revolve around him returning in time to start the Saturday morning grilling process, which he starts at 5 a.m. each weekend. Once, when he and his wife were returning from a trip, the flight was delayed, putting him home at about 3 a.m.

"I didn't get much sleep, but I was still out here at 5, ready to go," Allen says, laughing.

Allen's grandfather, Ed Keneipp, and his father, Kenneth Allen, began the business at the west end of the 600 block of Sloan Street in 1957. At the time, they rented the building and operated the grocery. In 1962, they purchased the building. Keneipp had owned a grocery store on Land Street prior to that time, Allen said. Kenneth and his wife, Ina Allen, operated the business for many years.

Though Kenneth died a couple of years ago, Ina is 89 and lives in an assisted-living residence, Allen said. His parents contributed to the success of the store even after they retired and he took over, he said.

"Mom and Dad were retired, but they still helped here for a long time," he said. "When they got to where they couldn't work anymore, it was tough."

These days, competition from large chain grocers and Super Wal-Marts have left many small corner stores out of business, and Allen says he understands why.

"It's hard. For years, we got by on our fresh meats in our meat department and our fresh deli," he said. "But, people want a bigger variety of foods these days. And, this used to be a more convenient location."

Other things have changed, too, he said.

"We delivered groceries for years, and I'm still able to, but I don't have any older people I deliver to anymore," he said.

Despite the challenges, though, his store continues to be a fixture in the community.

"When the business changes, you have to learn how to handle those changes," he said. "Learning how to adapt is the difference in whether or not you stay in business."