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Butcher has built customer loyalty

| Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2009

For a modestly sized specialty butcher shop on an isolated back road, Cheplic Packing Inc. has built a wealth of loyal customers accustomed to quality products and service with a smile.

The one-stop butcher shop first operated out of George and Sandy Cheplic's Finleyville basement in 1977. Three years later, the Cheplics opened a slaughter house at the company's current location, 111 Cheplic Lane, just off Mingo Church Road in Finleyville.

In 1983, the Cheplics added the retail end of the business, which continues to be in high demand today.

Cheplic Packing became a full-time operation in 1986. And customers like Pittsburgh resident Harry Sloap have kept the business buzzing, George Cheplic said.

Sloap was the first customer when Cheplic Packing began in the owners' basement and when it moved to its current site.

Sloap routinely makes the drive to Cheplic Packing for its distinguishable taste and hospitable employees.

George Cheplic said there are many other long-time customers that stop in for the same reasons.

"No one has personalized service like we do," he said. "I have customers that have been with me ever since I opened up. They're still here."

"We specialize in customer service. We give the people what they want, how they want it," said the Cheplics' son, Jason, who works with his parents. "On Saturdays, we know all the customers on a first-name basis. They sit there and they chat. They bring their coffees in. It's nice."

George and Sandy Cheplic's son-in-law, Gary Bachetti Jr., works in the meat processing depart-ment.

Jason Cheplic said he values the family atmosphere at the business and the rapport he, his mother and his father share with the clientele.

George Cheplic first worked in the business as a 13-year-old meat cutter at his father's market along Route 88.

"I worked right along side of him," George Cheplic said. "Really, I wanted to be an attorney, but then I got into the meat business. I got my hands dirty, and that was it."

Cheplic Market closed after more than 25 years in business when John Cheplic died in 1975.

When it closed, George Cheplic was working for Kroger.

He wrapped up 20 years with the company as a meat manager at the Belle Vernon office when the business shut down in 1983.

But, he had already been under way with his own business venture.

Starting up was an uncertain time for the family.

"When I first started, I was leery," George Cheplic said. "I used to work night and day. When we first started, there was many a day where we worked 15, 16 hours.

"But, everything just blossomed and fell into place. It's been fabulous."

George Cheplic said he is still consumed with the business, although he is considering retirement and taking on a consultant role at the shop.

Despite the demanding job, the 73-year-old meat marketer said he hasn't regretted a day at work.

"Hey, I just take time to go to church on Sunday," he said with a smile.

Cheplic said he and his family are a dying breed.

"We're true butchers. We're the old fashioned butchers. There's only a few of us left now," he said. "You can buy a cow and bring it in here and we'll cut it, freeze it and wrap it here. That's what they call custom slaughtering. We buy a lot of meat, too, because we can't butcher all that we sell."

Diversifying the business and broadening its capabilities has been the key to its survival.

"We've always got something to do, so if it's slow on one thing we can pick it up with another," George Cheplic said. "You never put your eggs in one basket. We've done different things."

When it comes to the more than 70 items sold at the shop, the Cheplics aren't afraid to mix it up.

"We've got about five or six different sausages. We even started making bacon burgers. We grind bacon into the ground meat," George Cheplic said. "We created hillbilly bacon. It's bacon created out of a pork butt. It's the same seasoning and it's leaner. We make a hot pepper cheese kielbasa. We started that, too.

"We even make our own hot dogs now for probably the last five years."

The business specializes in smoked meats.

"That's our main thing since we came here. Last Christmas, we sold over 1,200 hams," George Cheplic said. "You can't go anywhere and get smoking like we have."

The Cheplics have also made homemade beef jerky for the last 15 years.

"We're making almost 200 pounds a week now," George Cheplic said. "We make all our own hot dogs. We make our own ham and smoked pork chops."

The business is a hot spot when it comes to supplying family functions and holidays.

"We sell a ton of chicken. We do a lot of roasted chicken," he said. "We do a lot of roasting hogs, for picnics and weddings, and things like that."

The owners had to actually turn away business because there was so much demand.

"We quit doing deer now because we are so busy with the other stuff," George Cheplic said of processing for local hunters.

Business has been good enough for expansion.

Three months ago, George Cheplic added a 20-foot by 60-foot freezer to the more than $1 million in equipment and storage space on the business grounds.

The Cheplics strive to offer a welcoming atmosphere at their business.

George Cheplic can often be seen at the cash register.

His wife frequently answers the phone and packages orders.

Jason Cheplic said he doesn't mind working behind the scenes while his father serves as the company socialite.

The younger Cheplic handles the slaughtering and helps in the retail shop.

He is fully committed to carrying on the family name through the business.

The next generation, Jason Cheplic's son, Zachary, is already familiar with the shop.

"He's three years old and he can't wait to come down here, every day," George Cheplic said.

Sandy Cheplic said all the time the family has invested in the company has been worthwhile.

"We started out from nothing. I thought we were never going to make it, but we worked hard at it," she said. "It's been really good to us. It's tremendous."

Cheplic Packing Inc. is open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesdays and Thurs-days and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

For more information, call (724) 348-7094.

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