Normally, I Eat at Joe’s

There's a good vibe growing for Saturday's "Eat In" at the former Chink's Steaks. Here's how to keep it that way.

There are few labels that signify normalcy more than the name “Joe.” Joe College. Joe Cool. A good Joe. There’s something cheerful, upbeat and even a little bit All-American about the name.

So when Joe Groh changed the name of his steak shop — from Chink’s Steaks, named after the former owner — to, well, “Joe’s,” I feel confident that he was not trying to strike a blow for diversity or political correctness or anything like that. What he wanted was something unobjectionable, something that would let him expand his customer base, and “Chink’s” — which doubles as a vulgar slur on Asians — would never fit those qualifications. Basically: There’s not much normal about being needlessly offensive.

But trying to be normal created a bit of abnormality for Joe: He started losing business, from customers who liked the old name and hated giving in to “political correctness.” And we decided to respond to that bit of craziness by holding an “Eat In” this Saturday at the steak shop: We didn’t want Joe to suffer for removing any hint of racism from his business name.

A few dozen people have responded they’ll come — we’ve gotten support and coveragefrom some news sources around town (Zagat, the Inquirer, City Paper, WHYY) and beyond. It has seemed like a good vibe is developing.

Except for one thing.

You’ll remember Stu Bykofsky’s column which started all this on Monday. There was a stark moment in that column that occurs while Stu and Joe are in Joe’s shop, chatting:

A little old lady, maybe 75, comes in with her son and daughter. She says to Groh, “You make me sick,” orders a cheesesteak, sits down, eats it, then walks out telling him, “You still make me sick.”

“Pure Philadelphia,” Stu called it, but it was actually a disquieting, ugly moment. And it’s worth noting, because on Thursday afternoon, the following was posted to the “Eat at Joe’s” Facebook page.

I bumped into the “you make me sick” 75 y/o grandma and got word she will be attending on Saturday. She said she’s bring signs. I’m pretty sure she isn’t bringing ‘signs’ of support.

Oh dear.

Admittedly, I got nervous about this for a few minutes. And then I decided what my response will be.

I’m going to act normal. Like a regular Joe.

I’m not going to make a sign. I’m not going to chant. I’m not going to scream and shout. I’m not going to confront anybody.

Instead, I’m going to simply defy anybody who is so deeply attached to the old, racist-sounding name that they have to hold boycotts and protests (or even, reportedly, commit graffiti) by walking into Joe’s Steaks around Saturday noon and laying down my hard-earned money — in exchange, of course, for a cheesesteak and fries. Maybe a shake.

And then I’m going to sit down with my family and friends and eat until I’m full. I’m going to have lunch like it’s the most normal thing in the world.

Because it is normal. Hating racism in the 21st century is normal. Having lunch is normal. Demanding that somebody else cling to a business name that gives great offense is the abnormal thing here. The thing about that normalcy — the normalcy, again, I’m pretty sure Joe Groh deeply craves at this point — is that it doesn’t have to put on a show or make signs. It just is.

We’ll be there Saturday. Hope to see you there.