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Blunt. Brash. Bold. Politically incorrect. Unapologetically patriotic. Philadelphia cheese-steak king Joey Vento was all that and a side of freedom fries. The 71-year-old owner of Geno’s Steaks died of a heart attack this week, but he reignited a national debate over radical multiculturalism that will burn for years to come.
Five years ago, Vento garnered national headlines when a local newspaper profiled his outspoken views on customers who couldn’t speak English. He hung a sign in his order window that read: “This is America. When ordering, speak English.” Though he never turned anyone away, the grandson of Italian immigrants informed hungry patrons that he reserved the “right to refuse service” to those he couldn’t understand.
No menus in 10 different languages. No dumbed-down pictographs for the idiocracy. The choice at Geno’s is simple: Sink or swim. Learn English or eat somewhere else. “If you can’t tell me what you want, I can’t serve you,” Vento told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “It’s up to you. If you can’t read, if you can’t say the word ‘cheese,’ how can I communicate with you — and why should I have to bend? I got a business to run.”
Vento’s refusal to coddle triggered a tsunami of complaints from self-appointed civil rights leaders. The ululations of the aggrieved resounded from sea to whining sea.
For exercising his constitutionally protected free speech, both the Philadelphia City Council and Philadelphia Human Relations Commission launched political inquisitions against Vento. Yes, it really happened in the home of Independence Hall. Members of the government bodies demanded that Vento remove his bald eagle-adorned sign and threatened to revoke his business license. After 21 months of investigation, a marathon seven-hour hearing and hysterical testimony likening his innocuous 4-inch-by-9-inch sign to “Jim Crow laws,” he was cleared of discrimination charges.
Plainspoken as ever, Vento understood full well why the multi-culti mob wanted to gag him: “I say what everybody’s thinking but is afraid to say.”
As a fellow Philly-born loudmouth, I cheered Vento on for years during his battles with the anti-assimilationists.
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