Editor's note: Chillin' Wit' is a regular Monday feature of the Daily News that spotlights a name in the news away from the job.
EVER SINCE he started working at 17, Geno Vento has spent more time at the Passyunk Avenue steak shop his father opened in 1966 than at home.
So, it's no surprise that even on a Sunday morning, Vento, 43, feels just as cozy sipping coffee at the lone booth inside Geno's Steaks - after which his parents, the late Joey and Eileen Vento, named their only child - as at his condo overlooking the Delaware River, near Penn's Landing.
On this chilly morning, Vento, in an orange-and-white T-shirt bearing the name of the steak shop he took over after his father died in 2011, banters with employees slinging cheesesteaks to those hardy enough to brave a windy October morning to have Philly's most famous sandwich for breakfast - and there are plenty.
"Jimmy Reds, he's been here over 40 years," Vento says, proudly, as his righthand man walks into the main kitchen. "When I'm not here, he's Geno."
Vento proudly points out all the celebrity photos lining the wall and under the glass at the booth. He comes to rest on two of Joan Rivers - a great friend of his who died last month - one from 15 years ago, another more recent.
"She was a sweetheart," Vento says, flashing a sparkling grin with his neat, jet-black goatee.
Vento's been busy: In February, he started taking classes at the Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College, in West Philly. He talks excitedly about how he's often the first to raise his hand to ask a question and how he's befriended a few teachers, proving their first impressions of "the Geno's Steaks guy" wrong.
"The teachers thought, 'Oh, he's gonna be a diva,' " Vento says, with a chuckle. "But then they got to know me. I'm down to earth."
Other than implementing a few kitchen tips and multitasking skills he's learning in school, Vento says, nobody should expect any big changes at the South Philly steak stalwart.
People have been after him to franchise the multimillion-dollar empire his father built off six bucks and a loan, but Vento says that having the freedom and time to do things like taking spontaneous trips to see shows in New York is important. Plus, "Why fix it if it's not broken?" he asks - 10 restaurants would mean 10 headaches.
"I'm like the white Oprah," he jokes. "I tell it like it is."