New restaurant keeps seafood tradition alive at storied Mt. Airy property

When life hands you lemons, goes the old saying, make lemonade. That’s exactly what Matthew and Sharon Pierce have done, but in their case it’s not lemonade they’re turning out, it’s seafood.

That’s welcome news for those who mourned the loss of Groben’s Seafood earlier this year. Now, the space at 6833 Germantown Ave. is once again redolent with the aroma of freshly cooked fish.

The Personal Chef opened at the site of the former Northwest Philadelphia institution in October.

Both halves of the husband-and-wife duo are experienced cooks. When they lost their jobs – Sharon Pierce had been cooking at a rehabilitation center in New Jersey while Matthew was a pastry chef at a casino in that state – they opened a catering business, also called The Personal Chef. Their new Mt. Airy restaurant is just an extension of that operation.

“Seafood’s always been my specialty,” said Sharon Pierce in a recent interview, “and here I am working in our own seafood place.”

Excitement over more seafood

The Pierces were introduced to the area via catering gigs and their church. They are members of Impacting Your World Christian Center at 5507 Germantown Ave. They looked at other sites in the area but, as Pierce put it, “the Lord led us here.”

News that a new seafood place was coming to the site was greeted with enthusiasm even before The Personal Chef’s opening on Oct. 6. “People going by would bang on the door and some pushed notes under the door,” said Sharon Pierce.

There’s no doubt that Groben’s was missed. The family business originally opened in Germantown 135 years ago and had been in Mt. Airy for the last 60.

The business was operated by the Groben family – for four generations – until 2007, when it was purchased by a long-time employee Eric Hooks. The economic recession and financial woes forced Hooks to close in February of this year.

Homage on the outside, new vision on the inside

Former Groben’s patrons who visit The Personal Chef will see something old and a lot that’s new.

The familiar “Groben’s” sign will remain lit up and hanging over the business’ front door to honor the heritage of the site and show respect for the Groben family, who still own the building, said Sharon.

“Mr. Groben’s been great and has given us a lot of good advice,” she said.

The building itself, however, has “is totally revamped.”

Renovations included knocking out a wall, repainting, fixing up the brickwork, and bringing in new kitchen and counter equipment. Much of the old equipment was donated to Impacting Your World, said Pierce.

In addition to a new kitchen, the room next to the take-out counter and kitchen is now a dining area – the “Sweet and Savory Room” – that seats 60 people. It’s available for parties and events, and already.

“We’ll rent that side out. That’s what the area is looking for,” said Sharon, noting that “you’ll still be able to get your fresh and prepared seafood here.”

The takeout menu includes a variety of seafood, chicken and vegetable wraps, seafood hoagies and platters, including items such as glazed salmon with brown sugar. There’s also a number of inexpensively priced side dishes and a variety of deserts that are “all baked on the premises by my husband,” said Pierce.

Sit-down dining in the “Sweet and Savory Room” will also be offered several times a month.

“We aim to cater to the neighborhood,” said Pierce. “We’re grateful to be here.”

The Personal Chef is open Wednesday through Saturday. Hours are 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

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