Joey Vento, owner of South Philadelphia’s iconic Geno’s Steaks, died of a heart attack Tuesday evening at his home. He was 71.
But not even the passing of the cheesesteak haven’s founder was enough to shut down its bright lights and sizzling grill.
It was business as usual Tuesday night at Ninth and Passyunk, as mourners flocked to Geno’s to mourn his passing.
Workers here say that’s how Joey Vento would have wanted it.
“He was here seven days a week, every day four o’clock, you could set your watch by him, he’s here,” said Nick Monastra, who’s been flipping steaks at Geno’s for 22 years.
“I’m very hurt, I’m very sad, but the show must go on because that’s the way he wants it to be done.”
Vento opened Genos in 1966, as the legend goes, with two boxes of steaks and six dollars in his pocket. In 2006, he generated national attention, some of it negative, some of it laudatory, for posting a sign at the restaurant insisting that patrons order in English. Vento insisted his intent was not to deny service to immigrants, but to make sure people got their orders filled correctly.
In 2008, the Philadelphia Human Relations Commission cleared him of charges of discrimination.
Vento had been battling cancer, but those close to him say the heart attack was unexpected.
Joey D. Berardi picks up coffee at Genos every morning and says he hopes nothing changes now that Vento is gone.
“South Philadelphia needs places like this, this is what made South Philadelphia,” Berardi said. “He was a very generous guy. He supported Mummers; he supported all Philadelphia causes, and he fought and believed in what he believed in.”
Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter issued this statement: “Joey Vento was a colorful, larger-than-life Philadelphian who loved his city and excelled as a businessman. Mr. Vento had strongly held views that were matched by a commendable desire to give back to his community.”
The Independence Hall Tea Party Association saluted Vento in a statement, calling him a “conservative hero” and an “inspiration to the cause of freedom and liberty.”
A final point: Sources say Vento liked his steaks with provolone and onions.
Your thoughts: Do you have any cheesesteak memories worth sharing—with or without onions? We bet you do. How will you remember Joey Vento’s delicious legacy?