It’s the first time I can say I heard about a relative dying via Twitter and the Internet.
But, that’s how I found out that my second cousin — my mom’s cousin — Joey Vento died Tuesday. He apparently had a massive heart attack Tuesday night. He was 71 and a Philadelphia legend.
It’s a sad day, too, as Joey was a strong man, opinionated and giving. He ran a solid business and made good things out of what he started with. Geno’s Steaks is known throughout the world (as is his competitor across the street, Pat’s) for the steak sandwiches he created.
Let’s not cover everything up, however. He didn’t shy away from controversy and he became the center of it in 2006 when he put a sticker in his window that said “This is America. When ordering, please speak English.”
People came down hard on Joey, though he always defended his decision as freedom of speech.
On one of my visits there, he told me that he didn’t deny service if someone didn’t speak English, but that it was more of a fight against illegal immigration. It was a fight he was willing to take on and take it on he did.
Take a peek at Joey taking about this controversy on the Glenn Beck show:
To follow that up, here’s a little more from Joey on the situation — but in a different light as this was for an interview for a documentary.This clip also shows him telling how to order a steak, and some of the history of Geno’s.
For the record,after he was chased down for being discriminatory, he eventually won his case showing he wasn’t discriminatory.
But don’t think that Joey Vento was a bad person. He was far from it. He lived the American dream and he wanted to defend it. And when he made his money, he gave back.
He was known for his kindness. His support — vocally, financially and every other way — toward policemen, associations and everything law-abiding was known well. He didn’t hold back when giving to charities. Every time I talked to him, these were some of the things he told me he was most proud of.
I always tried to visit him when I went to Philly for a baseball game. I stopped there last year and hadn’t been to Geno’s this year. He always invited me (and friends) in for cheese steaks and fries and we’d sit in the “VIP” booth and chat for a bit. He always had the smile on his face and he never stayed away from being an active participant in his business.
Joey had battled some health issues last year as an Associated Press story noted that he had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer and underwent surgery this past November in New York City.
I didn’t know him for his controversy or a lot of the things he did with charities and all. I knew him as my second cousin. I remember going to his house as a kid and having the chance to beat around his large property with a golf cart. I also remember the ride he gave me in his blue Jaguar — and that speed wasn’t an issue. As a kid, I wore a lot of Geno’s shirts because he gave us so many. I have a few from a recent trip that I’ll hold onto as well.
He always took the time when I’d call ahead to let him know I was coming down to chat and he’d never take a dime for a steak sandwich or drinks. Not from me. Not from my friends. And he always sent me home with a few extra. And yes, when they made it back to New York that night, the next day they were just as good re-heated!
I like my steaks “wit wiz” and one of the last ones I had at Geno’s was one he cooked up for me (see top photo). It was amazing how good it was.
He was proud of his motorcycles and always took the time to show me them in his showroom, which is across the street from Geno’s.
My memories of Joey will be fond.
He was a good man, a good businessman and thought highly of people. He always treated me well and he always spoke highly of my mother. And he always told me to give her a hug from him when I left Geno’s.
Next time I’m in Philly, I’ll make sure to get there and order a steak. Wit wiz, of course. I’ll sit outside as I’ve done many times before, under the fluorescent glow of the shop and chomp away at the steak with some of his outstanding cheese fries. I’ve eaten there at all hours of the day — morning, afternoon and late night — and the steaks are always outstanding. The next one I have will be a little bittersweet, however.
Rest in peace, Joey. You’ll be missed.
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