Geno’s Steaks quietly removes controversial ‘speak English’ sign

Geno’s Steaks quietly removes controversial ‘speak English’ sign
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Philadelphians know there’s an appropriate way to order a cheesesteak. But one famed South Philly steak shop took it a step further, requiring its visitors—many of whom were tourists—to order in English.

“This is AMERICA,” a contentious sign posted at Geno’s Steaks declared. “When ordering, speak English.”

The sign was taken down Wednesday night, Philly Chit Chatfirstreported, A Geno’s employee confirmed the sign was taken down to Metro Thursday morning.

Geno’s released the following statement Thursday afternoon:

“Geno’s Steaks, founded in 1966 by Joey Vento, has been serving the community for over 50 years. Joey had strong political views that have been highly publicized, one being his ‘Please Speak English’ sign that hung in the ordering window of the 9th and Passyunk location. After Joey’s passing in 2011, his only child Geno Vento took over the business. While Geno continues to honor his father’s traditions of good quality food, cleanliness, and giving back to the community, he has decided that after 10 years it is time to move on. It’s not about a sign. It’s about what you do and what your mark in life is, and Geno wants to change that mark in life.”

The shop’s late founder, who posted the sign in 2006 as a political statement on immigration reform, went to court for almost 21 months to defend that decision. Though civil rights groups and activists claimed the sign was discriminatory and intimidating, even drawing comparisons to Jim Crow laws, the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations ruled Vento could keep the sign, arguing there was no indication he would actually turn away service.

Geno’s added a sign below its “Speak English” one that said management reserves the right to refuse service.

The sign outlived Vento, who died in 2011.

The store’s public relations firm told Philly Mag in 2013 that it was Vento’s “dying wish” to keep the sign, but that the firm urged his son Geno Vento, who took over the eatery, to take it down.

“Our client has reported to us, that per our strong recommendation the ‘American’s don’t press # 2’ sign has been removed,”Kylie Flett with Neff Associates public relationssaid in an email to Philly Mag at the time. “Ican also tell you that we STRONGLY recommended toGenoVentothat the ‘speak english’ sign be removed also. Our recommendation is currently under consideration by the Geno’s Team. Unfortunately, Joey’s dying wish to his son was for the sign to remain, andGenoat this time is choosing to respect his Father’s request.”

Upon hearing news of the sign’s removal, one of its long-time opponents told Metro she was glad.

“It’s about time! Long overdue!” wrote Camille Zubrinsky Charles, director of the Center for Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

During Vento’s hearing with the PCHR, Charles testified that the sign was like “whites only” signs during the Jim Crow era.