Butcher's Block Customers Flock to Mel Sr.'s; Chickens at Market Poultry

Article excerpt

Byline: Marguerite Higgins, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Mel Inman's customers wait like concertgoers as the maestro of poultry strides into the Eastern Market in Southeast, wraps himself in a white apron and begins with the soothing patter that precedes each sale.

He chats up the customers, most of whom are regulars, asking about family members, offering opinions on the weather and the poultry industry and any other topic that presents itself.

All the while, Mr. Inman, the 52-year-old owner and head butcher of Market Poultry, is looking ahead to the heavier crowds expected to pass by his poultry counter in the enclosed market today and tomorrow as customers get last-minute Easter orders.

On this day, after dealing with the first crush of business, Mr. Inman talks with his son and co-worker, Mel Jr., about orders that have come in and how much the business has in stock for the rest of the week.

Mr. Inman's son brings him up to speed on the current orders and then Mr. Inman is in his element, slicing up and de-boning birds, weighing orders and waiting on customers.

He started his stand in the market in 1976 after working for two years at the same poultry stand under another owner, Eleman Queen.

Mr. Inman had studied to be an architect but chose running a business instead because "I like not just what I'm selling but the people I'm selling it to here," he says.

He talks with four employees who are deboning chickens or preparing requested cuts of meat like turkey steak cubes, boneless leg roasts or turkey chops.

Boneless chicken breasts are the most popular order, but Mr. Inman says he gets frequent calls for specialized poultry cuts.

Poultry Market sells on average 10,000 pounds of meat each week, with most of the chicken coming from Allen Family Foods Inc., a Seaford, Del., chicken-processing company. Mr. Inman also buys an organically grown products from Eberly Poultry Inc., a Stevens, Pa., poultry and bird company.

In addition to the staples of chicken, turkey and duck, Mr. Inman also sells quail, pheasant, squab, elk, wild boar, buffalo, turtle and even alligator meat.

"You'd be surprised, but we get enough orders for this to keep it in stock," he says, pointing to an upright freezer that holds varied cuts of meat.

Besides being a salesman and butcher, Mr. Inman is an amateur psychologist and business consultant at times.

He cracks jokes with people waiting in line, asks other market workers passing by about business decisions and gives a sympathetic nod while listening to a middle-aged woman inform him that her son recently died. …