Marathon Grill Remains Open Despite Setbacks

Lawsuits don't stop iconic local chain.

The Marathon Grill restaurant chain has been serving up as much drama as grilled chicken of late. First its University City location shuttered. Then the company left its 13th and Chestnut store over a not-so-little matter of $186,600 in back rent. And the 10th and Walnut location closed as part of a recent legal settlement with longtime partners Murray and Bernard Spain, who alleged in a lawsuit that co-owner Cary Borish had led the restaurants into a “series of … problems, and … encountered severe financial distress.”

That kind of turmoil will set tongues to wagging. And in this case, rumors abounded that the chain was showing two remaining properties, at 16th and Sansom and 19th and Spruce, to prospective buyers, with the additional possibility of shutting down its last rental, at 19th and Market.

It turns out those rumors weren’t unfounded. “I absolutely admit I had some brokers in and even investigated some possibilities,” says Cary Borish.

The thing is, Marathon is a family business—a mom-and-pop shop parents Sheryl and Jay Borish had increasingly left in the care of their sons, Jon and Cary.

“When I spoke to the family about it,” says Cary, “they had every intention of continuing to run these three restaurants, and once I did my due diligence, I entirely agreed with them. We are all committed to Marathon.”

Long known for meh food at reasonable prices, Marathon has sometimes generated headlines for all the wrong reasons. Remember the 2005 brouhaha over $21,000 in back pay for employees?­ And the police raid at the now-defunct University City location for underage drinking?

But in recent years, Marathon’s food has actually gotten better, with the advent of the restaurant’s farm in Brewerytown providing a new organic flair. Cary is now talking up plans for farmers’ stands and CSAs. And Marathon remains the one place where well-off lawyers and doctors and middle-class secretaries­ and students eat lunch elbow-to-elbow.

“We’re doing really well in those three remaining stores,” Cary says, “and I think it’s because people don’t care about all the outside stuff. They just want a good meal at a reasonable price. Nothing else matters. Nor should it.”

This piece originally appeared in the April 2012 issue of Philadelphia magazine.