We always hear about the shiny, new food companies. The Spot is a series about the Philadelphia area's more established establishments and the people behind them.
When chefs Mary Ann Ferrie and Dan Grimes opened the door to Chloe, their 32-seat bistro, in fall 2000, they didn't know they were just ahead of a dining trend that would help define Philadelphia's quirky PLCB-hamstrung restaurant culture. All they knew was they loved cooking—and each other.
Then newlyweds, they couldn't stand the thought of working in different restaurants after falling hard for each other behind the line at the now-closed Latest Dish, off South Street.
From the beginning, they've always done things their own way.
Their BYOB, Chloe, is open only four nights each week—Wednesday through Saturday— and the restaurant does not take reservations. They wrap up for the night at the early-ish hour of 9:30 pm.
Ferrie and Grimes have always believed in a kind of work-life balance that's rare in the restaurant industry. Their top priority seems to be enjoying their life together. They walk to work from their South Philly home—a tradition that dates back to when they first met—and they relish their hours away from their restaurant as much as they like being there. When we talked, the pair of chefs seemed equally proud of their beloved pork ribs with mac and cheese and the fact that in the last 18 years they've spent only two nights apart.
Q: What made you want to start a BYOB concept back when almost no one was doing it?
Mary Ann: We always say that the only thing we know about liquor is how to drink it. We don't know how to buy it. We don't know how to store it. We don't know how to sell it and that was not something that we were interested in.
Dan: We didn't have the money for it.
Mary Ann: What we were really interested in having was a place that focused on food, not coming to see your favorite bartender, not having happy hour, not getting wasted. We wanted a place where people would come and the only reason they were coming was for our food.
Q: How did you two first meet?
Mary Ann: I took over as chef at The Latest Dish when he was working there. He was the sous chef.
Dan: But we didn't get along.
Mary Ann: He was a jerk.
Dan: She came in and I had been working there 2 years. I was angry they didn't ask me to be the chef, and I took it out on her. My new boss. It was childish.
Q: How did you go from being resentful to being in love and married and co-owning this restaurant together?
Mary Ann: One time he was done with work and he was in the basement standing in the dishwashing area. It was the summer. He was sweating like crazy and he took off his shirt. He was washing up in the sink. I walked downstairs and I squealed because my boy is cut. He's like, what's the matter? I said, "Umm, I saw a mouse."
Q: Well, that explains how you warmed up to Dan, but Dan, how did you warm up to Mary Ann?
Dan: It was over staff drink after work. She would always get out of the kitchen and doll up. She was always with the J Jill, the cardigan, the sweater and the scarf. Just looking lovely. Everybody else always drank beer. She was like champagne or red wine. Then one night I asked, "Do you mind if I sit next to you?" We got to talking and I asked, "Where do you live?" She said 12th and Pine. I'm like, how do you get back and forth? We're down at 4th and South. She says,"I walk home." And I said, "No, you don't walk home alone. Look, that stops here. I'm walking you home."
Mary Ann: That night he kissed me and I literally closed my door and I slid down the back of the door. I was like what just happened?
Q: How did you decide to go into business together after leaving The Latest Dish?
Mary Ann: Basically, we wanted to keep working together and nobody would hire us both. That was the long and short of it.
Q: How would you describe the type of food you cook here?
Dan: We always tell people that it's American eclectic. Actually, usually when people ask what type of food do you have, our first response is delicious.
Q: Can you say some more about what American eclectic means to you?
Mary Ann: We always think that people like to eat the things that we're craving. When we talk about the next week's menu on a Sunday night, we're like, "What do you feel like having? What's interesting to you? I'm thinking about a big rib eye steak."Then steak goes on the menu. It's really just what we feel like eating. It's a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Sometimes we do an Asian tuna dish. We always have barbecue baby back ribs and mac and cheese on the menu.
Q: How has the food that you serve here changed over time or evolved as your own tastes have evolved?
Mary Ann: We've gotten a little bit more daring as time has gone on. We've really started challenging ourselves a little bit more. Two years ago we started changing the menu every two weeks. We love it.
Q: Do trends influence your cooking?
Mary Ann: No, we don't cook that way. There's no foam. There's no sous vide. There are no gadgets. We're just like two really good home cooks.
Dan: I think our most interesting gadget is called a potato peeler.
Q: How have your diners' palates changed over the years? Are there any more adventurous menu items now that you can put on the menu and sell out of today that you would not have tried in 2000?
Mary Ann: Yes, but feel like our clientele don't come here to be crazy adventurous. But they'll try things, like the grilled octopus, which I was skeptical about selling. And things like foiegras torchon or sweet breads. We wouldn't have done those in 2000.
Q: During the past 16 years, Chloe BYOB has survived some hard economic times, including after September 11 and the financial collapse of 2008. What helped your business survive?
Mary Ann: I think it's because eating here is like eating in a friend's home. People respond to that, it's comforting. It's a really warm, welcoming and friendly place. And having regulars is important. There are many nights when I walk out of the kitchen and I literally know everyone in the room by name. Look, 2008 hurt us. We had a rough couple of years but our clientele base, they bounced back and they came back. I mean, we have one couple that has come in every Wednesday night for dinner for the past 15 years.
Q: You work together and you're married, how many hours a day would you say you spend together?
Mary Ann: 24.
Dan: All of them. Every minute.
Mary Ann: We're never apart. We do our days off together. We go to lunch together. We go to dinner together. We stay home and cook. We're always together.
Q: There must be challenges to that. What are they? Don't you fight?
Dan: Maybe you should field that one. She hates the guy she works with sometimes.
Mary Ann: Sometimes I hate the guy I work with but I never hate my husband. We never had a fight as a married couple. Here though, ugh.
Dan: Right. Business is business.
Mary Ann: We get it all out here. Then we go home. Sometimes I will literally say to him, the guy I work with was such a [not nice word that starts with "a"]. He gets me so fired up. But if we worked at separate restaurants, we'd never see each other.
Joy Manning, a writer and editor who has covered food and restaurants in Philadelphia for more than decade, is also the executive editor of Edible Philly and Edible Jersey magazines. Also follow her on Instagram @joymanning.