Northeast Philly steak joint cuts controversy from menu

PHOTOS: CHARLES FOX / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Owner Joe Groh , who began working at Chink's Steaks in 1979, said he didn't associate the shop's name with the racial slur. It was named for its founder, Sam "Chink" Sherman, who died in 1997.
PHOTOS: CHARLES FOX / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Owner Joe Groh , who began working at Chink's Steaks in 1979, said he didn't associate the shop's name with the racial slur. It was named for its founder, Sam "Chink" Sherman, who died in 1997.
Posted: March 29, 2013

SAME GREAT cheesesteaks, now with 99 percent less controversy!

That, in so many words, was the gist of Thursday's announcement that Chink's Steaks in Wissinoming will debut a new name, Joe's Steaks & Soda Shop, on April 1.

And no, it's not an April Fools' joke.

"I've been here for 35 years, and I've owned [Chink's] for 14. We've had some controversy," Joe Groh, the shop's owner, said by phone Thursday night.

"We just decided it was time for myself, my family, my employees to get with the times."

The shop was named for its founder, Sam "Chink" Sherman, who died in 1997. His widow told the Daily News in 2004 that neighborhood kids had nicknamed Sherman "Chink" because his eyes appeared slanty.

That same year, a West Philly resident named Susannah Park Ayscue led a campaign, backed by numerous Asian-American and civil-rights groups, to convince the steak shop to change its name.

Even though "chink" is regarded as a racist term, Ayscue's bid was unsuccessful. Thousands of supporters signed a petition in favor of the shop keeping the original name.

Groh, who began working at the shop in 1979, slicing rib eyes and onions, said he and others associated "Chink's" with Sherman, not the racial slur.

But more controversy followed in 2008, when national Asian-American organizations again pushed for the shop, on Torresdale Avenue near Benner Street, to be renamed.

Groh planned to open a takeout-only shop bearing Chink's name on Columbus Boulevard in South Philly that year, but the venture never took off. "The name was an issue," he said.

The controversy ultimately died down, Groh said, but the issue nagged at him.

"It is very important to me, my family and the entire staff that we no longer inadvertently alienate anyone in the Philly community," Groh said.

The Philly-based advertising agency Neff Associates spearheaded the shop's rebranding. David Neff, the agency's president, said the new name conveys "the longevity of Joe's business, which has been handcrafting sodas, milk shakes and egg creams since it opened in 1949."


On Twitter: @dgambacorta

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