This is a story about small-town entrepreneurship and national journalism with a global reach.
Shakedown BBQ of Grantville, PA is a small place with a big heart. There are only about six tables, all of which were occupied when I arrived with my aunt and her boyfriend on a chilly day shortly before Christmas. In fact there was a line out the door and we stood awkwardly after ordering, wondering if we’d have to sit outside bundled in our coats. Presently a father and daughter who had been eating mac & cheese while practicing multiplication tables cleared space for us.
We waited for our order to arrive wreathed in the sweet smoky smell permeating the place, chatting about our trip from New York so far (and I from London before that) and our soon-to-be-reached destination: a Christmas house full to the brim of relatives. There’s no place like home for the holidays, but it’s fun to stop for a little adventure along the way.
The food was delicious, the sausage and brisket being the standout favorites at our table. Alas we missed the ribs: they were still cooking and we weren’t committed enough to wait an hour for them. Hearing how far we’d come to try their wares the owner popped out to say hello, explaining that Shakedown got its start as a roadside stand at a truck stop a few miles away. A year and a half ago they found their current building and they couldn’t be more pleased with how things are going. I told them they’d soon have to set up a worldwide shipping service to reach their many fans around the globe.
By the time we left we’d chatted with just about every patron in the place, notably a friendly marketing manager from nearby Hershey who came over after our meal to find out if the many miles had been worth it. Our sauce-sticky smiles answered for us.
We owe our culinary sojourn to the New York Times: we wouldn’t have turned our tracks toward Grantville if my aunt hadn’t read this article about best barbecue and noticed it was less than an hour from her sister’s house in Pennsylvania.
When you live in a big city you forget there are places you can go and meet anyone who will talk to you; places you can see small businesses grow from a single cart at a truck stop to a thriving nationally-lauded establishment while still retaining quality. In an era of disposable digital culture, the power of print journalism still enables people to connect to the best things in life.