The 66 year old Vento is the hands-on owner of a Philadelphia treasure, Geno’s Steaks, a legendary cheese steak joint in the middle of gritty, working-class South Philly. Day after day, month after month, year after year, for 40 years now, Joey and his crew have been serving up a delicious sandwich that is unique to the City of Brotherly Love. What pizza is to New York City, cheese steaks are to Philadelphia. And even though there’s competition and plenty of debate about who makes the best one, many people emphatically declare that Geno’s is the best place to get a Philly cheese steak in America.
Geno’s Steaks stands out on the corner of 9th and Passyunk like a brightly lit shrine to gastronomic delights, it’s bright orange exterior and illuminated signs paying tribute to Philly sports teams seemingly visible for miles. Joey likes to say, “If they turned the lights out at Geno’s, Philadelphia would go dark.”
Turning the lights out at Geno’s is a circumstance that some people at City Hall seem to think is a proper punishment for something that Joey has done. The only trouble is that most Americans think the guy deserves a ticker tape parade for what he’s done.
Joey Vento is a flag-waving, freedom-loving businessman. He works seven days a week putting in long, tough hours cutting the loaves of bread for the sandwiches, supervising his employees, and glad-handing the many customers who make a stop at Geno’s a part of their routine. Meeting Joey for the first time will make you feel like you’ve known him forever, the proverbial guy who never met a stranger.
But Joey has a simple request of his customers who line up outside Geno’s to await their turn: when ordering, please speak English. It’s a polite request that has landed him in a lot of hot water with the governmental bureaucrats who feel it’s their duty to patrol the politically correct waters of Philly.
Nearly a year ago, Joey put a little sticker on the window above the counter where people order their food. The sticker simply reflects his wish that people not hold up his line and make life difficult for the men and women who take the orders. It contains this message: “This is America. When ordering, please speak English.”
Perhaps never in the history of Philadelphia has a nine-inch sticker created such a commotion.