Eat at Joe’s: How to Show Your Support For a Less Racist Cheesesteak

On Saturday, join our “Eat In” to support Joe Groh for changing the name of Chink’s Steaks.

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.”

  • Jane Yavis

    Read Stu’s article, took note of the “Rightly or Wrongly, knew it would be the rant of the ever persecuted base of Talk Radio for at least two days,,,,,and that’s what’s happening. This is exactly the “heritage” that hurts Philadelphia’s image. Joe did what he did because he thought it was time for a change,,,,,it had nothing to do with the name,,,,It was time for a change,,,,and he wanted to expand.

    Should Joe go back to the old name as one talk Show Host desperate for relevance since I was thin,,,,,says he should????? Maybe the host can threaten Joe with a Tea Party Primary Challenger in the upcoming election,,,,,if you get my picture. See you Saturday.

    • Jack Cotter

      Can we tell Stu that there doesn’t always have to be two sides to every story? There’s no “rightly” side to racial insensitivity. It’s ridiculous. The term was widely used as a slur against Chinese immigrants, that’s where the word comes from, that’s why it offends people, end of story.

      • Jane Yavis

        When I read the article, I pretty much knew where he would be willing to take it. – The Editorial read like a Resume for a talk Radio Gig,,,and his conversation with Dom Giordano sounded like the Job Interview.

    • CJ

      Its the practice of complaining, and it working, that has turned off Joe’s base. NOT, repeat, NOT their love of an old name that only in recent years is synonymous with racism. His base is turned off by Political Correctness, dont you get it? Its only a cheesesteak, they can go elsewhere, so they do.

      • Jane Yavis

        Joe doesn’t have a base,,,,he has customers,,,,,,,the Base of whom you speak is that of talk radio,,,,,,given your previous conclusion, you are part of that firmly entrenched base. Have an angry evening.

  • J.Oz

    “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.”

    Joel…so, you’re saying that derogatory name calling is a white guy phenomenon? Is that what you’re saying?

    • Joel Mathis

      I’m saying, J. Oz, that historically, white guy derogatory name-calling has been the only kind that *really* mattered.

      • CJ

        Joel, historically, you are naive and ignorant. Way to make broad, sweeping statements, that is equally small-minded. Do your research before you make nonsensical, preachy statements. Political Correctness feeds the beast, not a cure for racism.

        • Leo Mulvihill

          ” Way to make broad, sweeping statements, that is equally small-minded. Do your research before you make nonsensical, preachy statements.”

          dramatic irony
          noun
          irony that is inherent in speeches or a situation of a drama and is understood by the audience but not grasped by the characters in the play or commenters on phillymag.com

  • Donna Bennett

    This is an absolute joke! It was never about race until a select few and the media wanted to make it about race! It was a nickname! And if it is such a racial slur, WHY is Joe’s still making a killing off selling Chink’s tshirts????? My daughter recently posted a picture of her friend crossing her eyes in Joe’s Steaks while we were waiting for sandwiches. The editor of Eater Magazine/Philly is now saying he is receiving complaints about her photo being racist. This is absolutely ridiculous! But yep, let’s make it all about race! Non-racist cheesesteak??? GIve me a break!

    • Jane Yavis

      This isn’t about race, Donna, it’s about ignorance. Pure unadulterated ignorance. If the man wants to change the name of his establishment, he has every right to do so,,,,The whole “Change the name” was a long time ago,,,,it was history.

      If you call “The media” talk radio,,,,then of course, it’s all about race,,,,the only two things they can talk about is race and Second
      Amendment RIghts

      BTW,,,,when the the word Racist (either in the form of Are Call me??? or the accusation of someone as racist) comes into the discussion, the conversation goes nowhere.

      • CJ

        Sure, the public has the same right to be turned off my PC-run-amok… and not give this practice ANY success %. Let’s change the Washington Monument.. it looks like a Penis.

    • Aaron

      Using a “racial” slur as a nick name is racist hence the word racial in the description of the slur. Donna i really think you need to understand what the definition of words are, “racial” and “slur”. You understand slurs aren’t complimentary right at least? I am definitely not a person who gets easily offended but truthfully if any establishment that uses a racial epithet for another race be it black or white, that place would be protested and shutdown in a heartbeat and not open for this long. Sometimes you have to come out of the corner of your close-minded world, understand more about how others feel and not be stuck in backwards, old times and realize the world has change from being able to be openly racist. At least just do in indoors please.

    • Han Sun

      You may not see this as being about race but it is. Whenever the media exposes occurrences of racism towards Asians (which isn’t all that often), there are people who complain that we’re being too sensitive and that our claims are ridiculous. Would you say the same thing to a black person who was offended by a steak joint that used the “N” word as its name? I’m not saying that the two racial slurs or the two minority groups are the same but the analogy can be made – there is no hierarchy of oppression. The media didn’t “make it all about race.” Rather, whoever came up with the brilliant idea of naming the business “Chink’s” in the first place (intentionally or unintentionally) made it all about race and I for one am glad to see that the owners are finally being held accountable.

    • JC

      All I’m getting from you and your daughter is that you are OK with calling Asians with racial slurs and you want to keep doing it despite what we think. Go ahead, just do whatever you want, and raise your daughter into little racists. We are used to seeing people like you and we will ignore you, but we will never stop calling you a racist.

  • CJ

    He changed the name b/c of the liberal overly PC world.. Non Asians complaining. Give me a break. Liberals made a fuss.. he cowtowed to the pressure.. hence why ppl wont go now..

    • JC

      I’ll tell u a secret – Asians’ been avoiding a place because it’s so fucking racist it was beyond hope. Not complaining because we don’t even want to get near the place. And you are one of those people who insisted that it doesn’t offend us – IT DOES, just like the N word to blacks. And guess what, I don’t think you give a damn about what I think at all.

  • A Philadelphian

    Everyone knows that Geno’s is the real racist cheesesteak joint…

    • Jason

      Everyone knows there Cheese steak was one of the worst on “The Ultimate Cheesesteak Challenge” too

      • Jane Yavis

        Their, Their now, Jason. You are the Gem

  • Nina Ahmad

    Please ask Joe to change his web address as well: http://www.chinksteaks.com/

  • ygnabb

    The name may have changed, but the same great taste remains. You’re not likely to find a better cheesesteak/milkshake combo anywhere else.