Controversial ‘speak English’ sign is gone from Geno’s Steaks

It was Joey Vento’s dying wish.

No more 'Speak English' sign

No more 'Speak English' sign

Danya Henninger
danyahenninger-headshot-2022

Uno cheesesteak wit, por favor?

After 10 years of it being against house rules, it looks like you can now order your Geno’s cheesesteak in Spanish… or in any language you like. The infamous “When ordering, speak English” sign is gone.

Geno’s Steaks is known throughout the world as one half of “Cheesesteak Vegas,” the nickname given to the tourist-beloved, politician-frequented intersection of Ninth and Passyunk it shares with Pat’s King of Steaks.

But the South Philly shop is almost more famous for the the views of its founder, Joey Vento. In 2006, Vento slapped a decal sign in the main window of his counter-service shop.

“This is AMERICA,” it read. “When ordering, speak English.”

Discriminatory? After international outcry and a complaint that led to a 21-month deliberation, the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations ruled that it was not. In a statement after the ruling that foreshadowed the kind of spin Donald Trump has been putting on accusations of unfair bias, Vento suggested he enjoyed the whole thing immensely. “They made me famous throughout the world,” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I became a hero.”

genos-oldsign

The 'Speak English' sign, among other paraphernalia.

Prince Roy / Flickr

And so the sign lived lived on.

In 2011, Joey Vento died of heart failure, leaving the business to his son, Geno. (In case you’re wondering, Geno was named after the cheesesteak shop, not the other way around.)

Geno Vento is not bombastic like his father was. He’s an aspiring actor and a gay rights supporter. As boss, he made several changes to the business, including broadening the menu and removing some of the other, more offensive signs.

genos-minisign
Wikimedia Commons

But he didn’t take down the “Speak English” sign. Why? Per a press release issued at the time, “Joey’s dying wish to his son was for the sign to remain.”

As Geno Vento expanded the business, opening franchises in Xfinity Live and the Philadelphia International Airport, the sign at the original stayed. The Presidential candidate with, er, strong views on immigration — Trump himself — visited the shop in late September.

But the sign is not there anymore.

Geno’s staff had no idea why the sign had been taken down — but they definitely noticed.

“We just came in one day and it was gone,” said one worker, who requested anonymity. “They just did it quietly.”

“No comment,” said another.

Geno Vento has not yet responded to a request for comment.

(Update: Although staff at the shop thought otherwise, an Oct. 7 report from Philly Chit Chat says “the sign was removed before the DNC as they didn’t want to offend anyone.”)

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