Whiz With Shall Overcome

Remember Joseph Vento, the Philadelphia cheesesteak seller who started refusing to clog arteries for patrons who didn't speak English? Did you think, "Hell, there's no way I could ever sympathize with this guy"?

Life is funny.

A city agency charged with investigating discrimination plans to file a complaint Monday that questions the legality of the [English only] signs, which Vento has said are directed at the Mexican immigrants in Geno's South Philadelphia neighborhood.
...
Geno's "has a right to express its opinion, however offensive," she said. "But there are specific limitations on places of public accommodation, because they are supposed to be available to everyone."

Councilman Jim Kenney called the signs a "divisive and mean-spirited" blow to the city's image and this week asked Vento to remove them. Scores of Inquirer readers have said they would boycott the shop for its "Speak English" directive, while many others said they would buy Vento's steaks in solidarity.

It wasn't easy to make a martyr out of a guy who admits he's only discriminating against Mexicans (he's let Italian tourists order in Italian with no complaints), but Philadelphia's city council scoffs at challenges like that.

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  • ||

    The Right to Cheesesteak shall not be infringed. What part of 'shall not be infringed don't you understand!?

  • ||

    Bigots don't have First Amendment rights?
    I won't even mention old-fashioned property rights, as those are apparently trumped by "public accommodation" issues.

  • ||

    "But there are specific limitations on places of public accommodation, because they are supposed to be available to everyone."

    So it's not a stretch to assume this should encompass EVERY language, not just Spanish?

    I happen to speak fluent Hovitoz... maybe I can get a job at a sub shop.

    WA-kama la tuza!! Rovata!!

  • ||

    VVVVVVvtttttt. vvvvvvvvt...

  • digamma||

    If they give him the death penalty, he might change his tune about Mumia.

  • ||

    While I believe this to be the height of bigotry AND stupidity, it reminds a little of O'Reilly's War on Christmas. Retailers went to the "Season's Greetings" or another generic starement so as to not offend non-Christians. It had more to do with economics than religion. When "Merry Xmas" encompassed darn near evey American, businesses had little to lose. Nowadays, the same statement excludes something like 15% of potential customers so they've simply chosen to not exclude anyone.

    If Geno's is willing to take the financial hit (not to mention the associated bad PR) they should be permitted to exclude whomever he wants. Still, I say they're a bunch of smelly, hairy @$$holes, though.

  • ||

    You smug libertarians act like it's as simple as walking across the street to find another world-famous cheesesteak joint without English-only signs.

  • Timothy||

    Councilman Jim Kenney called the signs a "divisive and mean-spirited" blow to the city's image

    Nice to know the councilman is so concerned about Philly's image as a violent, unlivable hell-hole.

  • ||

    Point No. 1 -- The City of Philadelphia's actions will do nothing but make a martyr out of this lowlife, and probably massively increase his business by virtue of attracting every fat loser who spends all day watching Fox News.

    Point No. 2 -- The City is probably right in their interpretation of the law. The barbeque joint case back in '65 or '66 ruled that the public accomodations provisions of the Civil Rights Act prohibit restaurants from refusing service based on "race, religion, or national origin." Geno's admitted that the order policy was specifically to exclude Mexicans, at which point he fell headfirst over the "national origin" prohibition.

    Now, I have to wonder why the Philly authorities couldn't just SAY that? Why blather on about the city's image and all, when you have a perfectly good legal compulsion to do something?

  • ||

    "Still, I say they're a bunch of smelly, hairy @$$holes, though."

    We're talking about Italians right?

  • The Rocky Balboa Statue||

    Councilman Jim Kenney called the signs a "divisive and mean-spirited" blow to the city's image

    Because Philadelphia's image reflects nothing but good taste and class.

  • ||

    As a native Philadelphian, I can't stand that we get national pub from guys like the "English-only" and "freedom fries" proprietor at Geno's (who sells mediocre cheesesteaks, BTW). All neon, no flavor. Everyone here knows that the Geno's/Pat's/Jim's triumvirate is for tourists and the exceedingly drunk.

    P.S. In more depressing Philadelphia food news, a councilman is trying to get a Chicago-style ban on foie gras instituted. Just awful.

  • SPD||

    Would it be wrong for me to wish Vento meets a Twilight Zone-style fate, whereby he suffers a head injury that results in him being able to understand only Spanish, and thus unable to order his own food?

    That said, the guy has a right to be a bigot in his own establishment. No one who disagrees with Vento -- and I'm one -- has to work for him or patronize his business.

    If he was in charge of a hospital I might support some legal action by the city, but I say let him wallow in his own crapulence and fade into obscurity, like that Holocaust denier whats-his-face almost did.

  • John||

    Next thing you know, they'll be demanding that 911 operators be able to speak English, too.

  • Warren||

    Next thing you know, they'll be demanding that 911 operators be able to speak English, too.

    Lamest Strawman Ever.

  • ||

    � was specifically to exclude Mexicans, at which point he fell headfirst over the "national origin" prohibition.�

    Almost; non-english speaking Mexicans specifically. Remember, it�s ok to use race to discriminate as long as it is not the sole criteria.

  • Viking Moose||

    Warren - you surprised?

  • ||

    Hate crime!

  • ||

    Michael,

    When I lived at 43rd and Chestnut I used to get my cheesesteaks at Royal Pizza at 42d and Baltimore. Good Philadelphia Italian food in a black neighborhood (back then the Penn students stayed north of Baltimore) made by Greeks. I wonder if it's still there?

    Scew all these people who don't like Philadelphia. Anybody can live is a clean, orderly, well-run city.

    SSJG

  • ||

    I just think that it's wonderful to hear that the City of Philadelphia has resolved all of its larger problems, freeing the City Council to focus on issues of this minor nature!

    Congrats to Philly - can Camden be far behind?

  • ||

    Here's someone in Philly we can actually support:

    www.philadelphiaforward.org

    Better to focus on him than some jackass who won't sell his greasy food to a bunch of dang furriners.

  • Tim Cavanaugh||

    About the ruckus over the sign, Vento tells A-B-C, he doesn't see "much of a big deal about learning to say Cheez Whiz."

    Cheese Whiz on a steak sub: Why isn't the civil rights commission doing something about that?

  • ||

    Just pointing out that someone's inability to speak english is not inherently tied to their national origin. If you are from Mexico or Honduras, you will be served if you order in english. Language, in and of itself, is not protected by public accommodation laws.

  • ||

    I would assume that this sign was posted because a substantial portion of orders come from non-English speaking customers. I know Vento thinks he is making a principled stand, but it's asinine to turn away not only that portion of his potential customer base, but anyone else whom his sign might offend. Whatever. It's his profit to lose.

    One would hope that European shops frequented by American tourists will not adopt a similar policy. However, from what I can gather most store owners there don't seem to have much of a problem with bilingualism. Fortunately, most businesses here in America are beginning to understand it's not a dirty word.

    ("My God, we have to learn a SECOND language? The horror!")

  • SPD||

    Tim,

    In the dangerous realm of Philly-based regional cuisine, Cheez Whiz ranks somewhere among soggy, salt-ridden soft pretzels, "shoo-fly" pie, Tastykakes, extra-meat Italian hoagies and scrapple (if you don't know what scrapple is, consider yourself lucky).

    (I'm still baffled as to how Houston took away our title of "World's Fattest City." I mean, come on... we host the Wing Bowl, people!)

  • ||

    tsk, tsk. Isn't Philadelphia one of the fattest cities in the U.S.? Obviously, for the public good, we should close down all these cheese-steak shops anyway!

    (I can't eat one with my tongue this far in my cheek, so neither should the rest of you.)

  • ||

    I remember in law school (in Chicago) that the Floridians and Californians were the ones with all of the healthy habits--we exercised, ate reasonably well, didn't smoke, etc. I don't mean we were all radical health nuts (though we had a few of those), but in contrast to the people from our northern states, the difference was amazing to behold. I wonder why that is? More exposed skin during the year? More time for outside exercise? More fish?

  • ||

    The Cheese Steak guy might seem like a pretty trivial and unnecessary application of the public accomodations law. And I agree that it is. But we should remember that there was a time in this country when people were turned back from restaurants and hotels merely because of their skin color. In this day and age, someone could possibly just drive on down the highway to the next place if such a thing happened. But then again, this might depend on the region - perhaps whole areas would attempt to reinsert racial discrimination. So it doesn't strike me that such laws are unreasonable a priori. Equal access to basic needs is an important moral point.

    The example of fois gras being banned in Chicago restaurants: It actually really is an incredibly cruel procedure. Why would such a thing not merit being taken seriously by libertarians? Isn't animal cruelty taken into consideration in libertarian philosophy?

  • Tim Cavanaugh||

    In the dangerous realm of Philly-based regional cuisine, Cheez Whiz ranks somewhere among soggy, salt-ridden soft pretzels, "shoo-fly" pie, Tastykakes, extra-meat Italian hoagies and scrapple

    I like pretzels, tastykakes, and scrapple, but Cheez Whiz on a cheesesteak is an infamia. I don't care what they do in Philly: Try that shit in South Jersey and see what happens.

  • Jadagul||

    Paleolib: you'll get different perspectives on animal welfare talking to different libertarians. Personally, I don't give animals any moral standing at all, but there are probably several people here who disagree with me.

  • ||

    paleolib,

    Should restaurants be required to serve fare that would be eaten by all people, regardless of their dietary restrictions? In the absence of such laws, if enough restaurants colluded, it would be trivial to keep the vegans out, for instance. Just add chicken broth to everything. Don't want Muslims in your restaurant, add pork…

    In addition to individual establishments discriminating based on skin color, there were law's requiring various types of discrimination. Once the laws that mandate discrimination are removed, overall at least a few businesses are apt to cater to minority clientele. This applies to even minorities that are so few in number that they are unlikely to ever get legislation requiring restaurants to cater to them, e.g. vegans.

    This is one of the reasons some libertarians like the market so much. It tends to produce results for people who have too little clout to ever get consideration from politics. This is hard for people who turn to politics as a solution to believe.

  • ||

    anon2,

    Good point. Every market finds its niche.

  • ||

    "C" is for cheesesteak. That's good enough for me.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Nope, still don't sympathize with the guy.

  • ||

    Pi Guy writes: "Nowadays, the same statement excludes something like 15% of potential customers so they've simply chosen to not exclude anyone."

    Well, also, many if not most religions have holidays in December. Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Jews. And there's also Kwanzaa, of course. I'm sure there are lots of others, midwinter being a popular time for celebration.

    A business would have to be pretty stupid to tell customers "I'm sorry, we only sell CHRISTMAS gifts."

  • ||

    The example of fois gras being banned in Chicago restaurants
    Dang it, it's "Goose Liver" not some furriner word like "fois gras". If you can't order it in English you don't deserve to eat it. Now, where'd I leave my burrito???

  • ||

    Ah, if only this story had been true:

    "Added Gore, 'And what's the big deal with the cheesesteak sandwiches? They taste like shit. I wouldn't feed them to the dogs they're probably made out of.'" http://www.theonion.com/content/node/28341

  • ||

    but in contrast to the people from our northern states, the difference was amazing to behold. I wonder why that is?

    I hope you're not accusing the North of containing Philadelphia. Those of us who have never lived south of I-80 don't want to be tainted by association.

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