South Philly legend Joey Vento, who opened Geno's Steaks at 9th and Passyunk in 1966, died today of a massive heart attack. Vento was 71.
"We're a little tragic here right now," Vento's nephew Joseph Perno, manager at Geno's, said tonight. "We're doing fine. So far, so good."
Vento was a controversial figure, perhaps known best for signs at his steak shop requiring customers to order in English that prompted a lawsuit in 2006. Geno's Steaks also had a longstanding feud with Pat's King of Steaks, which claims to have invented the cheesesteak in 1933.
Perno, 50, said Vento had come to work this morning. When Perno came in for his night shift, he found out that Vento had suffered a fatal heart attack. "He was here every morning," Perno said. "He was here this morning. He was dedicated to his business and his family."
A longtime friend of the sandwich king, Domenic Chiavaroli, 65, of South Philadelphia, said at Geno's tonight: "I've been coming here since 1967. Joe was a good guy. He always tried to help everybody."
Chiavaroli said Vento was at the shop this morning, as he was every morning before it opened. Chiavaroli talked with Vento about a recent renovation inside the shop.
Vento went home later in the day to Shamong, Burlington County, where Chiavaroli said he had phoned in a bread order around 6 p.m. Vento then told his wife he wasn't feeling well, and went to lie down in his bedroom. His wife found him an hour later. "He wasn't feeling too good . . . an hour or so later his wife found him," Chiavaroli said family members told him.