After 64 years, popular cheesesteak stop Chink's Steaks in Wissinoming, Philadelphia, was renamed Joe's Steaks + Soda Shop, for reasons that should be obvious to most people. Unfortunately, that subset doesn't include a large chunk of the restaurant's regulars — sales have not been good since the switch.
Over 10,000 people signing a petition to keep the offensive name, but owner Joe Groh still dropped the cheesesteak place's old title this April, and in the last couple of months he's seen a 10-15 percent dips in sales, reports Stu Bykofsky at the Philadelphia Daily News. Even the people who have hung around are mad with this display of political correctness. A quick look at Joe's Steaks social media and Yelp results show that most people either refer to the place as "Joe's (Formerly Chink's)," "Chink's (Now Joe's)" or:
And of the patrons who haven't abandoned the shop, there's still a lot of resentment. Groh occasionally finds the word Chink's painted on the walls and sidewalks of the building and, as Bykofsky notes:
Some want to have it both ways. 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."
There are a couple of reasons why the change, presumably the right thing to do, would receive this kind of backlash. It might just be a reflection of the shifting demographics in the area. Back in 1949, Wissinoming was predominantly a white, working class neighborhood. Now it's more diverse, and people aren't happy. In response to a tweet looking for recommendations of good cheesesteak places in Philadelphia, one person wrote:
Tradition also plays a part. This isn't the first Philly cheesesteak place to offend people, and Groh, who spent most of his life working The Restaurant Presently Known as Joe's, didn't really want to rename in the first place. "In all honesty, no," Groh told Bykofsky when asked. "[But] I am Joe. It's 2013. It was time to do it."
"Some longtime customers who hated the name-change [call] it a surrender to political-correctness," Bykofsky wrote. "They have a point." If Asian-American groups hadn't demanded that he change the name, you might still be able to get your greasy cheesesteaks with a side of old timey prejudice.
And some patrons argue that, no, actually, the old name wasn't racist at all. The man who first opened the restaurant back in 1949 was Samuel "Chink" Sherman, and his friends came up with the nickname because his eyes were almond shaped. And, as a black patron of the restaurant noted: If the shop had been named with a slur against blacks, "that would be offensive," he said. "But Chink was a nickname. It could have been a term of endearment."
Only one thing is clear, then: Philadelphians of all persuasions love cheesesteaks, even if they aren't very good for you.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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