Philly: Geno’s Steaks Owner Vento Dies

Joey Vento founded Geno's Steaks in 1966.
By Dan Stamm | NBC Philadelphia

Joey Vento founded Geno's Steaks in 1966.

Outspoken Philly cheesesteak legend Joey Vento died of a massive heart attack Tuesday, Geno’s Steaks confirmed. He was 71.

Vento suffered chest pains around 5:30 p.m. and was taken to the hospital where he died, according to Geno’s.

The cheesesteak king had surgery in Nov. 2010 for colon cancer.

Besides bringing Geno’s to prominence as one of the premiere cheesesteak joints in the city of the steak sandwich, Vento also took stands against illegal immigration — making international news for asking patrons to “Speak English” — and gave his support to fallen police officers.

In June 2006, Vento and Geno’s grabbed headlines for two small signs posted at the shop stating, “This is AMERICA: WHEN ORDERING ‘PLEASE SPEAK ENGLISH.'”

As much as Vento was known for his politics he was also known for his sandwiches. Geno’s — open 24 hours a day — became known for not chopping up its meat and its bright neon signs that lit up the South Philly night.

Vento opened Geno’s in 1966 — it was called Joe’s Steak Place back then — across the street from Pat’s King of Steaks at 9th and Passyunk in South Philly. He had learned the business from his dad who owned South Street staple Jim’s Steak, according to Geno’s website.

Funeral arrangements weren’t immediately released.