by Len Lear
Michael Sivel, 45, a spectacularly successful Realtor who grew up in Erdenheim and now lives in Wyndmoor with his wife and two daughters, founded The Sivel Group in 2005, now the number one real estate group in Chestnut Hill and one of the top teams in the country within the Berkshire Hathaway Home Services empire, according to his website.
The coronavirus pandemic has affected his business dramatically.
“We are closing the deals we have under contract,” he said last week, “but some have blown up, although not as many as I thought. Right now, with the stay-at-home orders, we can’t show properties, so we are at a standstill. Hopefully when it lifts and things die down, with interest rates really low, we’ll be able to make up for lost time and get some houses sold.”
Meanwhile, with more free time, Sivel enjoys visiting his favorite restaurant for takeout, Spot Gourmet Burger, at 2821 W. Girard Ave. in Brewerytown, owned by Josh Kim, 45, who was born in the Passyunk Homes public housing project in South Philly but moved to Lafayette Hill at age 6 and graduated from Plymouth Whitemarsh High School in 1992.
“I’ve known Josh since we first used his catering service in 2015,” Sivel said. “He is the absolute best. I don’t think he has a bad bone in his body. He is funny, caring, gets along with everyone, just a great guy. And without a doubt, his food is some of the best in the city. The cheese fries are awesome; his cheese steaks are legit; he slices the ribeye himself, and burgers are all spot-on. He even uses Conshy Bakery rolls.”
Kim, one of six children, helped his parents operate a sidewalk stand in South Philly when he was young. He started working in restaurants when he was 15, eventually doing every job from dishwasher to general manager.
“I learned to cook from my mom and from working in so many restaurants,” he said last week.
Kim opened a burger cart in 2012 in the Drexel University area, which he still uses for catering, but in late 2015 he opened the restaurant in Brewerytown. Recently, however, he decided to move to a bigger location with a possible liquor license in West Philadelphia, so he gave 60 days’ notice to his landlord, who soon afterwards signed a lease with a new tenant.
Then came the coronavirus pandemic, however, and the bank loan Josh was in the process of getting to finance his new restaurant disappeared. Because he had already given his notice to his former landlord and a new tenant was due to replace him, he was without a home.
Kim was devastated, he said. He has a wife, Andrea Rizzo, and four children who depend on him.
“But I know that everybody is sharing in this tragedy,” he said, “and some people are worse off than we are because they don’t have any food, so I decided to give all of my food away. I’m going to go out with a bang.”
So Kim, who is a two-time Best of Philly winner, a winner of “ReWrapped” on the Food Network and a “Food Truck of the Year” winner in 2012, put the following notice on his website:
“If you have small children and need help, please stop by for a meal. If you lost your job due to the current pandemic, please come by and let us feed you. As God has granted me much grace, I shall champion my brothers and sisters in their time of need.”
Sivel happened to see the website paragraph and was so moved by it that he discussed the situation with Kim and then donated $150 towards Kim’s free meals program. Kim captured a screenshot of their conversation and posted it to Twitter and Instagram. Very quickly, more donations started to pout in.
“Boy, did it take off,” Sivel said. “It’s still rolling! I only found out about his personal plight after my buddy Vince Norple reached out to Josh to try and get some more press for what he was doing. The next morning, I emailed my team and asked for donations for Philabundance. We raised $1,400 and sent another $200 to Josh. A bunch of my friends have all seen his Instagram posts and have sent some money down, also. I really hope he can keep it going for as long as he can, and if not, wouldn’t it be great to find such an awesome person a spot here in Chestnut Hill? I mean this guy is truly giving away the shirt off his back.”
Kim, who has 13 employees, has been providing free meals for several dozen people a day. Meanwhile, he is hopeful that the other party who signed the lease to replace him will decide not to go through with the lease.
“I’m in constant communication with all parties to come to some resolution,” he said.
For more information about Kim, visit spotburgers.com.
Sivel can be reached at thesivelgroup.com. Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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