Friends and family remember Joey Vento

PHILADELPHIA - August 24, 2011

On Wednesday, Geno's felt a bit empty.

"It's very hard because I'm here when he comes in that door in the morning," said Geno's employee Karen Capello. "He didn't come in today."

Vento, a self-made South Philadelphia businessman who loved perfection and hard work, died suddenly of a heart attack on Tuesday at age 71.

Action News was there when his widow, Eileen, and his only son, Geno, arrived at the restaurant on Wednesday morning.

Eileen and Joey had just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary last year.

Geno Vento now inherits his father's business. It was the subject of their last conversation.

"Basically the steak house. You know, what I was going to do that day. And if I did anything wrong the next day because he was a perfectionist. Everything was his way," Geno Vento said.

Vento opened Geno's Steaks in 1966, right across from another famous steak shop, Pat's. From the beginning, Vento intended to become the biggest.

Few would have know he would also become one of the most colorful, and outspoken figures in Philadelphia.

His most outrageous move was the posting of a sign at Geno's, demanding customers to order in English. It angered everyone from Passyunk Avenue to City Hall.

To long-time friends, though, Vento's brashness was real, and pure.

"Joey was a straight, stand-up guy. I mean, he was South Philly all the way," said friend Frank Pistagno.

Geno Vento vows to maintain the strong cheese steak tradition here, but had these final words about his beloved father.

"If I could be half the man he was, I'd be happy," he said.

The Vento family plans a public funeral later this week, allowing the whole city to grieve with them.

Because, if anything, they know Joey Vento always loved to be the center of attention.

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