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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Joey: Only In Philadelphia, Only In America!

In school, he never got past the sixth grade.
His father and his brother were criminals.
Growing up, he said he was called "dago, wop -- all those names."
He was a street kid, but his instincts were good and he was able to roll with the punches.
In 1966, with only six bucks in his pocket and a $1,000 loan from his father-in-law, he started a business -- a business that didn't even bear his own name.
But everybody knew him and many came to love and revere him.
By the time he passed away yesterday at age 71, he was an international celebrity and a multimillionaire whose name had become synonymous with the Philly Cheesesteak.
With just one shop in just one location, Joey Vento presided over Geno's Steaks, a business that reportedly brought in more than $7 million a year.
No matter how successful he was or how much money he made, nothing kept Joey from the hard, constant, daily grind of the business. He often arrived on site at 4 A. M. He took pride in his shop, its strategic South Philly location, his employees and most of all in the people who flocked to his business -- the customers and colorful characters who lined up around the clock to buy a Geno's Cheesesteak.
And Joey never forgot the neighborhood -- he never forgot his beginnings, his roots. Joey's tough demeanor belied a soft heart. In South Philly and well beyond, he was "Mr. Compassion."  Just a part of Joey's legacy: He spent more than $100,000 to support an Elton John AIDS-awareness concert. He raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for police charities. He donated $60,000 worth of food a year to a hospice. And anonymously, he helped countless people who needed help.
The story goes that Joey got the name "Geno's" from a kid's name that was scrawled on the door of what was to become his legendary eatery. Maybe Joey thought the name was good luck. Maybe he thought it was catchy. Or maybe -- just like Joey -- he wasn't thinking of himself at all. He didn't see himself as the star. He simply wanted to reach out to someone else. You can be sure the kid who scrawled that name on the door became a customer -- and a fan.
Click here to read more on the life of Joey Vento.


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