When you think about it, Joe Groh’s sin—if he can be accused of such—is that he decided to be a smart businessman.
Racial slurs, after all, aren’t generally considered good business. And Groh—after trying and failing to expand his Chink’s Steaks shop into a second location—knew that he’d never be able to grow unless he changed the name of his business into something not so evocative of a common, vulgar put-down for Asians. The problem? It turns out that lots of his old customers really like their steaks “wit” racial insensitivity.
And so on Monday—just four months after Joe changed the name from “Chink’s” to “Joe’s Steaks,” Daily News columnist Stu Bykofsky reported that the business had taken a hit, essentially boycotted by old customers angry at the name change. By day’s end, the story had gone national, with disparaging mentions on the Grub Street blog and in Gawker. Coming on the heels of the Riley Cooper incident … well, let’s just say Philly is finding it hard to shed a bad reputation.
“I’ve had people come to my face and say ‘I’m never coming to your store again,’” Groh told PhillyMag on Monday afternoon. He was upbeat at that point—following Byko’s column, he’d seen an influx of customers, people determined to reward him for the name change instead of punishing him for it. “It’s awesome,” Groh said. “I’m happily surprised.”
But, he admitted, “I don’t know if it (the surge in business) is a one-day thing.”
It shouldn’t be, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
First, though, let’s settle the idea of whether the name “Chink’s” is just a piece of Philly heritage, or whether it is an offensive slur. It’s both!
By now, it’s a well-told story that Groh’s predecessor—the man who started the steak shop decades ago—was given the nickname “Chink” because, well, he was a white guy with “Asian-looking” eyes. The moniker may have been affectionate, but it’s akin to branding your buddy with the N-word because he has a deep tan.
(“America was, rightly or wrongly, less sensitive about such things then,” Bykofsky wrote Monday. Memo to Stu: We really are a better nation now that white guys aren’t so empowered to invent and use derogatory names for other races in order to dehumanize and undermine them. Period. It’s not even really a close question.)
Understand, it’s not merely “politically correct” to refrain from using a slur. It’s it’s morally correct. It’s correct etiquette. It’s just plain decent. Unless you’re an overbearing ignoramus more devoted to your need to offend your fellow humans than to show them simple respect—and yes, Philadelphia is blessed with an abundance of such folks—it’s simply correct.
Groh says he’d make the name change again—after years of resisting, he decided it was the right thing to do. The consequences, however, have been unpleasant. “It’s the scariest thing in the world to look at an empty store,” he said.
So it’s up to the rest of us to make sure it’s not empty.
“If 10 percent of the do-gooders who cheered him for doing the right thing came in for an occasional steak or shake, he’d be fine” Byko wrote Monday, and, well, he’s right.
So on Saturday, at noon, we’re going to have an “Eat In” at Joe’s. We’re trying to get as many of our friends to show up and have lunch: A cheesesteak, some fries, maybe a shake.
This isn’t a political rally—God knows that cheesesteaks too often end up being proxies in our local culture wars. Instead, the point is that the rest of us use our hard-earned dollars to support a businessman who decided to make a decision not to offend potential customers, a businessman who could’ve continued making his profits off an offensive slur and chose not to. We’re putting our money where our mouth is.
Also, it will be very tasty.
“Chink, he taught me well,” Groh said Monday. “We don’t skimp on anything. If you want a delicious cheesesteak, this is the place to come.”