When you ask native Delawareans to list the state’s iconic restaurants, The Dog House Sandwich Shop in New Castle and The Charcoal Pit in Brandywine Hundred are inevitably on the list. The four Sloan brothers founded both restaurants, which are now landmarks. The last of the brothers, Louis Sloan, died on Aug. 27.
Standing just over 5 feet, Lou Sloan was “100 percent” full of energy, says Barry Schlecker, who started working at The Dog House when he was 15. “He always had a smile on his face.”
Sloan was 12 when he entered the workforce. At age 17, the Wilmington High School graduate worked as a photographer in Rehoboth Beach. In 1953, Sloan and brothers Samuel, Martin and Aaron opened The Dog House. From the start, they were sticklers. “It was my first day on the job, and Lou had me down on my hands and knees, scrubbing the tile floor with a Brillo pad,” recalls Schlecker. “I remember Lou telling me that I was never to serve a sandwich that I wouldn’t eat myself.”
The restaurant, which has just 17 counter stools, was always bustling. “It was the busiest place I’ve ever worked,” Schlecker said. “I got there at 7 a.m. and would just start chopping and slicing.”
In 1956, the brothers opened The Charcoal Pit on Concord Pike. (The restaurant celebrates its 60th birthday this month.) In the 1960s, the high school students who made “The Pit” their local hangout often became so unruly after football games that the managers locked the doors and only a few patrons could come in at a time, Sloan told a News Journal reporter in 1986.
The entrepreneurial Sloans also owned a Dunkin Donuts, Pappy’s, Beefy’s and Swanky Frank restaurants. Schlecker had to go to their camera shop in downtown Wilmington to get his paycheck. Lou Sloan and some associates also started a restaurant equipment company that held patents on vegetable-slicing equipment. He was a charter member of the Delaware Restaurant Association.
Aaron Sloan died in 1981, and Samuel retired in 1975. In 1986, Lou and Martin sold The Charcoal Pit to Louis J. Capano Jr. In 2012, Mitch “Hut” Reinhart, the manager of The Dog House purchased that restaurant from Lou Sloan. Reinhart started working at the sandwich shop at age 13.
Both restaurants have served generations of diners. Seven Washington, D.C., doctors and their wives go on road trips just to eat at The Doghouse, says Reinhart’s daughter, Darlene Spence. One Connecticut developer flew into the New Castle County Airport to pick up 80 sandwiches and fly home.
After leaving the restaurant business, Sloan and his wife, Peggy, traveled. He was an avid skier, golfer and tennis player. Schlecker once ran into him on a racquetball court, and they played a game. “Do you always play this hard?” Sloan asked him. Schlecker replied that he was paying Sloan back for making him scrub The Dog House’s floors at age 15. “He laughed, and we became friends after that,” Schlecker says. “He was a class act.”
Sloan is survived by his wife, Peggy, two daughters, a stepson and five grandchildren.