“Hey!” “Are you OK?”
Titus Queen looks out of the plate-glass window of his super-snug restaurant and spies one of the 3rd Street regulars passing on by. Something didn’t look quite right to him.
He darts outside. The man said he was fine, but Titus wanted to be sure. He comes back and turns the lock on the door.
“It’s all right,” he says to Anya, his wife and business partner.
As I sat for an hour with the owners of Queen’s BBQ and Southern Cuisine, I was reminded of my own Italian household when I was growing up—you just never know who’s going to show up.
A cousin drops by. A close friend comes in, hands Anya a gift, then helps out taking orders. People tap on the window and wave.
And then there are the customers, who, for now, in these pandemic times, are relegated to calling ahead and picking up their heaps of pulled pork, brisket, collards and mac and cheese curbside.
“We definitely miss not being able to interact with people like we want,” Anya said. “That’s been the most difficult thing.”
But, in truth, there have been many difficult things in the short history of Queen’s.
Landlord issues delayed the opening for over a year, relegating the couple to working at the now-closed Subway franchise a few doors down until that was cleared up. Then COVID hit, forcing them to shut down quickly in March, just a month after officially opening.
They cautiously opened back up in April and have been gradually adding days and hours since. But you still can’t just walk in. There’s simply no room in the tiny waiting area for anyone to socially distance.
“We’re not going to open up our lobby until they figure out COVID because we don’t want to put anybody at risk,” Anya said.
Another big challenge is what’s across the street—or what isn’t.
Queen’s sits within a block or two of where thousands of state workers should be every day—the Capitol Complex, the PA Liquor Control Board, the State Museum, etc. Those buildings remain largely empty.
Titus and Anya are very open about their uphill battle, but believe that their tasty southern fare and the support of the community will see them through. They point to their strong marks on several food rating sites and their network of friends, family and just hungry fans.
“The community has been very supportive,” Anya said.
One of those customers is Harrisburg’s chief executive.
Mayor Eric Papenfuse has become a regular, especially of the pulled pork sandwich (“every bite melts in your mouth”), which he orders with coleslaw, and a side of macaroni and cheese (“creamy and satisfying”).
“Queen’s BBQ is an exceptional addition to the culinary scene in Harrisburg,” Papenfuse said. “I’m proud to support this small business and recommend it to everyone.”
Ivan Black, owner of Next Step Performance, a gym located at the 1500 Condominium, is another big fan. He said that he orders at least weekly, recently phoning in for a rack of ribs and a side of collard greens. For Black, patronizing Queen’s is “killing two birds with one stone”—you get great food and great people.
“They’re fantastic,” he said. “They do such a great job with their food, but you also get to support a business that you’d like to see make it when this whole (pandemic) thing is over.”
And that’s exactly where Titus and Anya Queen are focused, as well. They’re offering the best food and service they can in the hope that, one day, COVID will be history, and they can welcome people back inside to their counter.
Anya only hopes that happens before their new granddaughter gets too big because, if you ask, she’ll smile broadly and excitedly flip through the pictures on her phone to show you.
“Isn’t she the cutest?” Anya said. “She’s always smiling.”
She said that she learned about the intersection of food, family and caring for others from her grandmother, who lived on Allison Hill and insisted on feeding the entire neighborhood.
“She always had food on the stove,” she said. “She always fed people whenever they were hungry.”
For a moment, the couple is able to cast their worries aside and think about a more prosperous future for themselves, their family and their community.
“We try to always be thankful for everything we have,” Titus said. “That’s our slogan.”
Queen’s BBQ & Southern Cuisine is located at 912 N. 3rd St., Harrisburg. For more information, visit www.queensbbqandsoutherncuisine.com or their Facebook page or call 717-526-9998.