A Few Thoughts on the Death of Joey Vento

Quite a few years ago, I went down to Mexico to do some work at a dolphin facility. The vast majority of the employees were Mexican, and it was probably pretty obvious to them that I was getting paid quite a bit more during my few weeks there than they were. I worked hard and I tried to earn their respect, though they had every right to begrudge me.

A few nights after arriving, I went out for drinks with a few guys on the staff. We went to a small beer stand that had all of its seats outside. The guys I worked with ordered the first round of beers and we sat around and chatted. At one point I went up to grab a couple of brews. When I came back, one of the Mexican guys I was working with who spoke fluent English (and didn’t demand that I speak fluent Spanish) asked, “How much did you get charged for those?” I told him $2.50 each. A more than reasonable price, I thought. He was apoplectic. He stormed toward the counter, screaming in Spanish. It turned out that the bartender had charged everyone else $1.50, but had charged me a buck more. He went up one side of the bartender and down the other, then came back to the table and said, “Come on, let’s get out of here. Nobody is going to treat a friend of mine like that.”

I still get goosebumps when I think about that. A guy I had only known for a few days had seen me as more than just some gringo coming in to make some money. He had stuck up for me when I got treated like shit by a bartender for the crime of not being from that country, and for not speaking that language. My friend didn’t see me as an American coming in to make money for a month and then blow out of town. He simply saw me as another human being, a fellow man who was deserving of respect.

And that’s perhaps why I personally found Joey Vento so infuriating. He took the complete opposite approach from my friend. He saw people working their asses off to make less money than he and his friends, but showed no respect for them. He saw them not as fellow humans worthy of his respect, he saw them as “invaders” who were “murdering like 25 of us a day…molesting like 8 of our kids a day.” He took the debate from a reasonable one about how to deal with illegal immigration and turned it into a race war, bashing Mexican “anchor babies” and “drug dealers”every step of the way. Furthermore, he ripped the immigrants inability to speak English, calling them “morons” .

All of this without a hint of irony, despite the fact that his own English was highly suspect. And though he admitted that his first-generation grandparents never mastered the English language, he simply couldn’t understand why current first-generation Mexicans failed to do so, and mocked them for it. His supreme lack of irony would have been amusing had it not been so spiteful.

At the time Joey Vento opened Geno’s Steaks,  his father was in jail for committing murder, while his brother was imprisoned for drug dealing. Undoubtedly, there were many Americans who at the time would have held the Vento family up as an example as to why America needed to stop admitting so many Italians into this country, and why Joey Vento didn’t deserve a chance to start his own business. (Make no mistake, there was until recently ample anti-Italian sentiment in this country.)

But anyone who did so was wrong. Joey Vento was his own man. He was not his brother, he was not his father. He was an individual, a human being. And because this is America, he got a chance. By working his ass off, he made the most of it. He turned a $2000 investment into the most famous cheesesteak restaurant on earth. He was the very embodiment of the American dream.

He walked and talked with a swagger, and he had every right to. In business, he became what every American who has started a business with little more than the change in his pocket and a dream in his head wanted to become. He had built more than a success, he had built an institution, and he had done it all through his own blood, sweat, and tears.

But when immigrants came to his neighborhood, some legally and some illegally, most with the same dreams that Joey’s grandparents had…not coming with the hopes of striking it rich, but coming with the hopes that perhaps their grandchildren would have an opportunity to have a better life than they had…he treated them the way his grandparents had been treated by so many small minded Americans 100 years ago. He had risen from humble beginnings into a position of power, and then used that power to oppress people because they spoke a different language, came from a different culture, and were a slightly different shade than his ancestors.

In his view, they (his most commonly used phrase in every speech I’ve heard him make was “those people”) were not people trying to make things better for future generations that they might not even live to know, like Joey’s family had. “Those people” were “criminals” and “child molestors” and “drug dealers” and “murderers”. His appreciative audiences roared, and he was feted as a patriot by 1210 AM and FoxNews.

It was Thomas Jefferson’s dear Italian friend Philip Mazzei who wrote to Jefferson in the early 1770s that it was his belief that “All men are created equal.” Because Thomas Jefferson co-opted the phrase (Mazzei originally wrote it in Italian, but instead of insisting that he “Speak English”, Jefferson decided to translate it from the Italian) and used it in the greatest document ever written, Joey Vento got a chance in this great nation to make his dreams come true. He made the most of that opportunity, and his family and friends have every right to be proud of his incredible achievements. He not only ran an internationally renowned cheesesteak joint, Joey donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to charitable causes, $60,000 a year to a local hospice alone. In a city probably populated by more characters than any other city on earth, he was as colorful as anyone, and in the terrific documentary This is My Cheesesteak, he came off as hilarious, charming, and unique. If it wasn’t for the xenophobia, I have a feeling I would have really liked the guy.

I offer condolences to his family and hope that he Rests in Peace. But I regret that he became a hero for a small group of people who are looking for simple answers to complex problems, instead of a hero for a whole city. He was a remarkable man. It’s a shame that instead of being remembered solely for his business acumen, his gregarious nature, and his charitable heart, his legacy will also be that he seemed to believe that some people deserved to be treated differently because of their culture, language, and country of origin. It is worth noting that there is a bartender in Mexico who feels the exact same way.

Johnny Goodtimes is a quizzo host, contributer to Comcast Sports, and founder of Phillysportshistory.com. To follow him on twitter, click here.

  • Chris

    Joey Vento and his son don’t even make one whole person from where I’m standing.

  • Chris

    I meant of course “swastikas.”  This fascist scum coming out of the woodwork gets me rather riled.   One would think that after the Civil War and WWII and the civil rights movement American adults wouldn’t be lining up to defend racism in public, but I suppose the losers can’t help themselves.

    While I’m posting I should note that a regular quiz player told me on Wednesday that her Asian friend gets yelled at by Geno’s employees everytime she walks by the place, which is a lot as she lives in the neighborhood.

    What do they yell at her?  “Ling Ling”, a panda name.

    So that’s Geno’s for you, grown men from behind the safety of plexiglass yelling racist taunts at a lone young woman who actually lives in the neighborhood.

  • Danny

    Yeah, she’s my ex because she had to go back to China, moron. Where did I post that I support racism? When did I bash immigrants? I’m all for immigration, as long as it’s done legally.
    Now I’m a “skinhead?” LOL! You need medication. How do you live being angry all the time? 

  • Chris

    Good for your ex-girlfriend, China is a lot less misery than a life wasted on you.

    I shouldn’t have called you a skinhead, that was wrong of me on two counts:

    1) There are anti-racist skins so I should have specified.

    2) At the the racist skins have the common decency to own up to their white power beliefs, instead of hiding behind notions that immigrants are (to quote your hero Joey Vento the unlettered sandwich racist) “dirty” and “spread disease” and rape children and hold up the cheesesteak line with their imability, despite an incredible yearn for that traditional Mexican favorite Cheez Whiz, to order in English.

    A better sentence is “You, Danny, have the attitude BUT NOT EVEN THE HONESTY of a racist skinhead.”

  • Chris

    Good for your ex-girlfriend, China is a lot less misery than a life wasted on you.

    I shouldn’t have called you a skinhead, that was wrong of me on two counts:

    1) There are anti-racist skins so I should have specified.

    2) At the the racist skins have the common decency to own up to their white power beliefs, instead of hiding behind notions that immigrants are (to quote your hero Joey Vento the unlettered sandwich racist) “dirty” and “spread disease” and rape children and hold up the cheesesteak line with their imability, despite an incredible yearn for that traditional Mexican favorite Cheez Whiz, to order in English.

    A better sentence is “You, Danny, have the attitude BUT NOT EVEN THE HONESTY of a racist skinhead.”

  • Danny

    You may want to tell my current honey (who is from the Ivory Coast), about my “activities,” Chrissy.
    I feel sorry for your boyfriend.
    And what is “imability?” 

  • Chris

    Can’t seem to find a native speaker of English to have sex with you, can you?  I imagine understanding in full what you have to say sharply reduces your odds of getting laid.  (This is running on the assumption that these people exist.)

    Thomas Jefferson and a lot of other…er… scions of racial equality…  liked to have sex with African women too.  Possibly even voluntarily sometimes.

    Maybe you’re just an anti-Mexican bigot.  I don’t know and I don’t care, the fact remains that you’re spending a lot of time defending a dead racist moron because his Confederate flags and military crap and repeated racist statements about the alleged filth and disease and crime spread by darker people are for whatever reasons very appealing to you.  This makes you a terrible person and none of us have to regard your opinons on the matter as being worthy of serious consideration.

    You have not addressed the meat of the issue in any way, which is par for the course of you vile cowards and your virulent racism, which you try to prop up in the most dishonest terms as a concern for well-being of the country and/or the city.  Go back to the ‘burbs.

  • Jacque Strapp

    It’s “Ingish”, which was Joey Vento’s language. It’s similar to American English but has some differences, such as the liberal use of unnecessary quotation marks and apostrophes.

  • Anonymous

    Wow! That high IQ of yours is really coming through loud and clear. Somebody disagrees with you and you rant and rave, make sexist remarks about a guy’s girlfriend and threaten to beat him up. And you maintain you don’t have anger management issues? You are such a loser, man. Maybe you’re the one having trouble getting laid. Yeah, I know, women are attracted to angry disturbed guys like you who rant and rave and call people names and threaten them. They find that really sexy. You can have your pick.

    I’d leave my name, but I’m like scared scared scared to death that big badass Chris, the working class hero of the people, will track me down and kick my ass too.

  • Jim Goff

    Oh no! Turns out I made a big mistake posting this and my real name DID go up. Guess I’ll have to flee for my life before big badass Chris comes looking for me to kick my ass. 

    Actually, I would have left my name but I had said that I wasn’t going to reply anymore and I suppose I was a little embarrassed.  I couldn’t resist though. Just as well my real name is there.

    For those of you out there who can’t get enough of Chris and his spittle filled rants, he has a website under Quizmasterchris. You might want to check it out.

    Also, google his name and you’ll come to a listing by somebody who apparently was a former employer. The title of the post: “Quizmaster Chris is an Asshole.” Might want to read it to better understand the particular unhealthy combination of paranoia and obsession you’re dealing with when you interact with our friebnd Chris, scourge of conservatives and working class hero of the people. 

  • Danny

    More lies.

  • Danny

    OK, you grew up in a white blue collar neighborhood. Doesn’t make you any less of an elitist, pompous ass who looks down his nose at the very people who raised you. Seems almost as if you hate yourself. Sad.
    And I’m not going anywhere, I love the city and I love my White neighborhood. LOL!
    I’m actually starting to think you’re just bitter that your neighborhood has “changed” and you can’t afford to “get out.” Maybe you need more schooling.
    Did you ever take time to consider the fact that Joey moved to Jersey because he wanted some land and peace and quiet? Could he find that in South Philly? I think not.
    And talk about being a fascist … according to you, anybody who owns a business in Philadelphia should be forced to live here. Yeah, you’re all about America.   

  • Danny

    I think you should do what any real man would do – go over and defend the Asian girl’s honor.

  • Danny

    Rim has the biggest collection of douchestains in the city, you obviously fit right in. BTW, I’m part Jewish, Genius.

  • Danny

    Thanks. Yeah, obviously this guy has all kinds of mental and emotional issues … I kind of feel sorry for him.

    And, Chris, I’ve been in Philadelphia my entire life. Why do you accuse everybody who disagrees with you of being from the suburbs?  

  • Danny

    On a more postive note … Geno’s isn’t going anywhere and they’re here to stay! I’m happy just knowing the liberal morons who live near there are going to be unhappy until the day they die … and all because of a little sign.  
    Afterall, liberalism IS a mental disorder.

  • Danny

    LMAO! @ “Jizzmaster.”

  • Chris

    Do your posts read better in their original antiquated German?  I picture you typing on a keyboard with Fraktur letters.

  • Chris

    This is obviously Lisa, the person who runs the website mocking me.

    Lisa, people should know, has ridiculed my links to support Haitian relief efforts (because Haiti was “a  —hole before” therefore Haitians, in her opinion, don’t deserve relief.)

    People should also know that Lisa once volunteered after a quiz, out of the blue, just to get a rise out me apparently, that she couldn’t care less if people in Africa lived or died in famine.

    This is what we’re dealing with.  Anonymous coward racists.

  • Chris

    Joey Vento’s fan base is the suburbs.  Count the Jersey license plates and Confederate flags on the motorcycles that visit him every weekend.

  • Chris

    What makes these people “douchestains” to you, the LACK of racist symbols on the walls?

    And I have the “anger problem” because I don’t accept racists intimidating immigrants in my neighborhood – incredible.

  • Chris

    “Elitist pompous ass” = literate anti-racist, so that’s a compliment.

    This isn’t about me, it’s about your hero the dead racist sandwich troll.

    Why don’t you take some of your expansive time and defend for us a white northerner covering himself with Confederate tattoos.  How does this support for a rebellion against the federal government to maintain slavery make him a “great American?”

  • Chris

    How is someone’s OPINION about the quality of food a “lie”?  How could that possibly be?

    I suppose that knowing the difference between a fact and an opinion is lost on you, which explains quite a bit.

  • Chris

    Apparently I did test at “genius” level earlier in life, but as this is merely a statistical comparison to my peer group in the United States this is no great accomplishment.  I’d like to think I could hold my own against barnyard animals as well.  Being merely 40% sharper than the average Geno’s customer is a little too close for my comfort zone.

    In ant event your racism is measured by your attitudes toward groups you DON’T belong to, not the ones you do.  Are you Mexican or Latino, Danny?

  • Chris

    Actually Danny I live in a different neighborhood in the city than the one I grew up in, and I’ve lived in different places in the city at different times, as well as abroad.  (I have in fact been to about 40 countries and encountered about 60 difefrent languages and have ordered THOUSANDS OF MEALS abroad AND I HAVE NEVER ENCOUNTERED ANY SIGN NOR ATTITUDE ANYWHERE that my ability to be served would be connected to my linguistic skills.)

    My grandfather was an Italian immigrant to South Philly who had little formal education but worked very hard at acquiring a stunning vocabulary and sounded rather different than Joey Vento, who apparently made no effort in life to raise his English language skills (oh the irony!)  beyond those of a child.  Importantly I never heard him nor my other realtives, immigrants from Poland and elsewhere,  nor non-immigrant, make racist remarks nor other cutting remarks about people based in their national origin.

    My grandfather was from the generation that shot fascists, not the generation that emulates and glorifies their Whiz-covered dubious accomplishments.

    Living in the suburbs and leeching off of the city is a way open to disreputable Americans to gain our antiquated tax collection system and cheat city residents out of a decent tax base.  It sounds like you should leave the city, Danny, since it’s such a horrible place for you.  In fact you should probably leave the country and move somewhere where the immigration and linguistic laws are more to your liking.  I hear North Korea is taking applications.

    I bet the popular snack food places on the streets of Pyongyang are also festooned with military and police symbols.  You should love that.

  • Anonymous

    Dear Chris, Lisa, whoever she is, did not post the above remarks under Anonymous. So you’re wrong again. I suspect that happens a lot. Leave Lisa out of this. I suspect she’s already suffered enough having known somebody like you. Incidentally, baseless accusations of that sort simply illustrate the paranoia I referred to above. As I say, forget Lisa. Do you really think she’s the only person in the world who considers you an asshole? The way you carry on, I suspect the line of those people stretches to the crack of doom. Yours truly, Anonymous. 

  • Chris

    So the issue here is me and my behavior, and not that of Geno’s employees?  Time and time again you dodge any and all substance of the issue at hand.  It’s all you’ve got.

  • Chris

    Lisa drives traffic to her website anywhere on the internet she can identify me now that I block her posts from my own site.

  • Chris

    Something just occurred to me Danny – in another post in this same thread you stated that staying in Philadelphia your whole life (unlike your hero the dead racist sandwich jockey) was a sign of being a loser, and now you’re saying that you’ve been in Philadelphia your whole life!  So are you wrong about the former assertion or are you announcing to us all that you’re an unsuccessful loser..?

  • Anonymous

    You just don’t shut up, do you? There’s like 80 posts on this thread and how many are from you? Half at least? About 3/4 of the column inches or so. Did you ever consider maybe getting a life? Or at least some sort of hobby. You have some serious free time on your hands. You must have spent the equivalent of an eight hour work day on this. And obsessive? You? Says who? Nah. Not at all. Carrying on a running argument for four days with total strangers, complete with insults and threats of violence, is the sort of thing that all normal people do. 

  • Danny

    Chris, are you wrong ALL the time? LOL! I was talking about “getting out” of YOUR loser neighborhood … my neighborhood is great.
    Why don’t you be a man and stand outside Geno’s with a bullhorn on a Saturday night? I know you would never do that because you’re too much of a coward.    

  • Danny

    AND, do you ever answer a question? You’d better hope to God I don’t come to one of your retarded quiz nights to embarrass you.

  • Danny

    Her “opinion” doesn’t count.  

  • Danny

    No, Chris, I know for a fact that you LIE for your own benefit and agenda. The workers at Geno’s are not harrassing Asian girls. You know it and I know it. You’re a delusional liar.   
    Seriously, if it bothers you that much, go over and do something about it. Be a man for once. I certainly wouldn’t stand for people harrassing girls in my neighborhood.