Update, Feb. 13
For now, the butcher at Black Market Jerky operates behind a vintage deli counter in a shop along Allentown’s main street, but he dreams of expanding into a “nose-to-tail” butcher shop.
Domenic and Tina Betters, owners of Black Market Deli and its sister operation, Black Market Jerky, launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to open their brick-and-mortar shop in late 2017 at 740 East Warrington Ave., adding to the growing list of new business along Allentown’s main street.
Their deli shares space in a building with Breakfast at Shelly’s, a popular diner with a classic vibe, featuring black-and-white tile flooring, Coca Cola lamps and a long counter. Like so many storefronts situated along the neighborhood center in Pittsburgh towns, the space used to be an Isaly’s.
Allentown is experiencing something of a renaissance. Since 2014, the four-block business district along Warrington Avenue added 25 new businesses, dropping the vacancy rate from 40 percent to 18 percent, according to figures from the Hilltop Alliance, a non-profit dedicated to preserving and creating assets in Pittsburgh’s Hilltop communities.
Aaron Sukenik, executive director of the alliance, credits the growth to a few factors: Allentown’s access to major highways, its proximity to Downtown and its open arms to entrepreneurs through the alliance’s rent abatement program and signage grants.
Despite the new businesses — everything from Black Forge Coffee House to Skull Records to Salon Ivy — the neighborhood lacked food sources, he said. Options were limited to prepared foods from a restaurant or pre-packaged foods from Family Dollar.
“One thing we’ve always been prioritizing is any business that helps sort of fill that gap,” Sukenik said. “By having a deli provider in the neighborhood, [it] helped take that portion — anything that encourages walkable access to fresh foods.”
The Betters started out borrowing kitchen space from Shelly’s to make beef jerky, but with a little encouragement from the Hilltop Alliance, they opened the deli, too.
Meeting the need the Hilltop Alliance identified, the deli sells meats, cheeses, deli salads, baked goods and, of course, jerky from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily, and is closed Mondays. The shop also offers catering and Grubhub delivery. In the evenings, Black Market serves dinner, including a Saturday night comfort food supper with live entertainment.
After Shelly’s closes for the night, Domenic borrows the prep tables and counter space to butcher and prepare meats.
“Our long-term goal was we wanted to open a ‘nose-to-tail’ butcher shop where we’d make our jerky and make our charcuterie,” Tina said.
Nose-to-tail butchering is a sustainable practice in which a butcher will “use every last bit of that animal so there’s no waste and produce tons of amazing things,” Domenic said.
So now, the Betters have their sights set on renovating the shop’s basement over time as business allows. Domenic envisions fixing up the space with a larger prep table, a walk-in cooler, a sink, a smoker and even a dry curing chamber for salami.
“My whole family was all hunters, so every year my Mom would get deer jerky,” he said. “That’s how I learned my grandfather’s jerky recipe.”
His family history paired with a variety of on-the-job lessons from learning in grocery store delis to serving as butcher at Rivers Casino to working at a Strip District packaging company. While working at Whole Foods, he met Tina, who worked as the grocery store’s artist and had a history in catering, cooking and waitressing. The husband-and-wife duo teamed up to draw on both of their skill sets and set out on their own business.
It’s become a family affair for the North Side family, with children Darrell, 21; Donovan, 15; Betty, 3; and Domenic, 1. Betty, a blur of energy and giggles, even created her own jerky flavor called Betty’s Blend.
“She likes to help me mix the marinade, and she grabbed a bunch of seasonings off the counter and was like let’s do this,” Domenic said. “We just kind of humored her, but it turned out to be really good.”
So good they keep it in stock along with 13 other flavors, including a collaboration using Black Forge Coffee’s cold brew to make a jerky called Blackest Morning.
All are available for purchase online or in-store in Allentown — and to be clear, Tina says, that’s Allentown in Pittsburgh just two miles from Downtown, not Allentown in eastern Pa.
Even as Allentown welcomes new businesses, the Black Market crew is still stuck reminding people that Allentown is a neighborhood here in Pittsburgh — not across the state.
“We’ll say we own a deli in Allentown,” she said, “and they’re like all the way out there?!”