Thursday, June 15, 2006

Update on 'Querría un filete de queso . . . CON!'

We reported in a post last week about one of the more overt symbols of the racism that all too frequently bubble just below the surface in Philadelphia.

That would be Geno's Steaks, a South Philadelphia landmark that requires customers to speak English before they will be served.

The story has gone national (The Wall Street Journal reported that the flap was over a cheesecake store) and now the city’s Human Relations Commission has ordered Geno’s owner, Joey Vento to remove a sign that reads:

This is America. When ordering, speak English.

Vento is unrepentant:

I’m trying to help these people. You teach them how to say 'cheesesteak,' then they go home and learn another word. That’s how every other group [of immigrants] did it.

To take down the sign now, he says, would be an admission that he was wrong. Besides which, his business is booming and line are long with both customers and curiosity seekers.

Well, I know from experience that some Philadelphians have words in their vocabularies beyond "cheesesteak." Words like "arson fire" and "drive-by shooting." It seems like it will be only a matter of time before a hothead does something stoopid that will only get people hurt.

Meanwhile, Tony Luke’s, another legendary Philly-style sandwich giant, is defending and welcoming non-English-speaking patrons. Owner Tony Luke Jr. says the Geno’s controversy is casting a bad light on Philadelphia and could hurt tourism:
The message that tourists were getting, that other people were getting, from this publicity was, 'In Philadelphia, either speak the language or get out.'

He says his staff will work with the patrons in getting their order no matter what language they speak:

If I was to go to another country where I didn't speak the language, should I be denied service at a restaurant?

Luke says he's thinking about creating an international cheesesteak that you can get anything on. Except tofu. That's where he draws the line.

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