Specialty meat market is cleaning up Food: Business is brisk at Chitlin Market and Co. in Prince George's County, where a soul food delicacy is the specialty.

January 03, 1998|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

From all of the attention Shauna Anderson's specialty meat market has garnered, you would never guess the "specialty" is pig guts -- fully cleaned and ready to cook.

But not only are customers clamoring for chitterlings, but also investors, who want to buy into Anderson's 2-year-old Chitlin Market and Co. in Prince George's County.

One of Anderson's first tasks in the new year will be to consider franchising her business. She has taken on a partner, J. Anthony Brown, a comedian and co-host on Tom Joyner's syndicated morning radio show heard locally on WHUR-FM (96.3).

"A lot of people want to buy in," said Anderson, who also has established a Web site for the market. "It's so busy, franchising may be the only thing that saves me. I can't keep moving to bigger space."

In 1995, with 14 years of savings, she opened the Chit-lin Market in 600 square feet in Mount Rainier. Last year, the market moved to a 1,600-square-foot storefront in a West Hyattsville strip shopping mall, between a T-shirt company and a pawn shop.

She employs 22 -- 16 chitterling cleaners who, in three shifts, remove the fatty membrane and animal waste from the entrails, three managers, two employees who operate a mail-order center, and one quality control person.

The market sells 15,000 pounds of chitterlings a month, about 25 percent through the mail. She ships them in polar packs within 72 hours of an order's placement.

"I wanted to create a business with low costs and high profitability," Anderson said. "I envisioned a small market to supplement my tax income. I could not imagine that all of these people would be coming to my little market."

Anderson has felt the "entrepreneurial spirit" for a while now. She worked for the Internal Revenue Service as a statistician who traveled around the country refreshing the skills of IRS workers. About 10 years ago, she became self-employed as a home-based income tax specialist, a business she ran until she opened the market.

"I've never worked this hard in my life," Anderson said of her chitterling business.

The market's appeal has spread far beyond Prince George's County, or even Maryland. Some customers drive from Philadelphia and Richmond, Va. And mail order requests come from all over the country, Anderson said.

As a partner, Brown, who has appeared in movies and on television in addition to his radio job, will use his national presence to promote the market further, Anderson said.

Why chitterlings?

"I never felt chitterlings got their due," she said. "Some people look down on them, but I feel like they are a delicacy."

The major objection to chitterlings, referred to as "chitlins" in slang, is their foul smell. After all, the traditional Southern food is the small intestines of pigs.

It could take a person four hours to clean a 10-pound bucket of chitterlings, but Anderson's staff -- with their experienced hands -- can clean the same amount in 35 minutes or less.

"They work like machines," she said of her cleaners, adding that she guarantees customers the chitterlings only need to be rinsed and cooked.

She purchases them from a local meat supplier who gets them from North Carolina.

Business is brisk because customers are excited about having chitterlings available year round, Anderson said. In her experience, she said, many families have one good chitterling cook. And because preparing the food is so labor intensive, many families have them only during the holidays.

The market also sells side dishes by the pound -- homemade potato salad, candied yams and apples, corn bread stuffing, cooked collard greens, cooked string beans and barbecue baked beans. There is also a half-roasted chicken dinner with the choice of two vegetables.

Chitterlings can also be purchased cooked, which is how Fran Allen of Randallstown often orders them when she wants them midday.

Allen, a motivational speaker and author, sometimes rounds up friends to take the hour drive to West Hyattsville and to show them the market.

"Chitlins have been around for a long time, but the market is a novel idea," she said. "Shauna has taken a real simplistic idea and has turned it into a money-making venture."

Pub Date: 1/03/98

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