nativism wit

A legendary Philly cheesesteak joint has finally taken down this notoriously racist sign

Wikipedia Creative Commons photo by J.reed

Tourists visiting Philadelphia’s 3rd-best cheesesteakery* were often surprised to see the red, white and blue sign in the window of Geno’s Steaks with the words “This is America. When Ordering ‘Speak English'” printed on it.

But the sign is now gone, as of Wednesday. Local blog Billy Penn reports the sign, which has been posted in the shop’s window since 2006, has finally been removed.

Geno’s, along with its neighbor across the block, Pat’s King of Steaks, is frequently marketed as the best cheesesteaks in town. Non-locals might not be expecting a dash of nativism with their cheese whiz, but the archaic views of former owner Joey Vento were well-documented. (Let’s just say Geno’s sold a lot of “Freedom Fries” in the 2000s.)

“They don’t know how lucky they are. All we’re asking them to do is learn the English language,” Vento told Fox News when he put the sign up in 2006. “We’re out to help these people, but they’ve got to help themselves, too.”

For a while, back in the day, things were even worse.

Even in death, Joey Vento finds new ways to be bigoted. Never saw that sign before

A photo posted by Passyunk Post (@passyunkpost) on

Vento died in 2011, passing ownership of Geno’s to his son Geno—who was named after the restaurant, not the other way around. The “press 2 for deportation” sign came down, but the “Speak English” sign stayed up. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported in 2013 that apparently it was Vento’s final request that it continue to hang in the window, scaring off anyone with good taste (if the food hadn’t already).

A PR firm retained by Geno’s e-mailed the Inquirer at the time to say that “Unfortunately, Joey’s dying wish to his son was for the sign to remain, and Geno at this time is choosing to respect his Father’s request.”

I guess the average length of a dying wish is five years, because the sign is definitely gone now. Finally, you can order an inferior cheesesteak without looking at racist propaganda.

*(Disclosure: The author of this blog post went to college in Philadelphia and thinks the best cheesesteaks in the city can be ordered off a lunch truck with no sign that parks on Olney Avenue outside the campus of La Salle University on weekdays. If you’re in the neighborhood though, Pat’s is okay.)

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