The weather outside 6833 Germantown Avenue was drab and gray on Friday, February 24 and the atmosphere inside the premesis was just as gloomy. Building owners Bob and Jane Groben were surveying the empty counters and storage bins that for decades at this location had held seafood of every variety. After more than 100 years of operation, a Northwest institution – Groben’s Seafood – has closed its doors for good.
Groben was the fourth generation of his family to operate the business, which was renowned throughout the neighborhood for its seafood platters. Most of its many long-time patrons couldn’t remember a time when it hadn’t been at 6833, and that was only the last stop for a business that had been in existence since 1877.
The many incarnations of Groben’s
“It started out down by Vernon Park,” said Groben. “We (The Groben family) moved to Phil-Ellena Street in 1947 and it’s been here since 1952. “
Bob and Jane Groben took over the helm of the business in 1982 and after nearly 25 years decided to sell it and retire. In 2006 they sold the business to long-time employee Eric Hooks and his business partner Robert Coleman.
Hooks came in with a wealth of experience. He’d worked at the restaurant for almost 20 years, he said in a phone interview Friday afternoon, the last ten of those years as business manager. When he and Coleman bought Groben’s they had high hopes. “We had plans of improving the place and adding things on like catering,” he said.
Why it closed
What brought those hopes down was no one factor, he said, “It was a combination of a lot of things.”
“First, of course, was the economy, the recession,” Hooks said. “Then there were other restaurants that we did wholesale business with. They went out of business owing us a bunch of money. We knew that would catch up with us eventually. “
Adding to the woes, Hooks said, was the road reconstruction work along the 6800 block of the Avenue which hampered customers’ access and parking, and the growing number of Mt. Airy restaurants, all of them competing for a shrinking number of recession-era customers. “We had a retail, wholesale, and takeout business and the retail took the biggest hit,” he said.
Hooks said that his partner had left the business about eight months ago and that he had carried on by himself since then. He finally shut the doors for good earlier this week.
Of his experience at Groben’s he said, “I love the Mt. Airy neighbors and their diverse way about them. I appreciate their patronage and hope to serve them another day.”
In the meantime, when Bob Groben was asked about the future of the building he said, “I haven’t a clue.” Looking around the aging equipment left at 6833 he said, “I’ve got to get a junk dealer in here. There’s lots of things that need to go.”
He was certain about one thing: he wouldn’t go back to running the restaurant. “I’m 65 and those 18-hour days on my feet – that’s over.”