Philadelphia Cheesesteak Shop Owner Defends 'Order in English' Policy
Saturday, December 15, 2007
PHILADELPHIA — A small sign that asked customers to order in English at a famous cheesesteak shop was never meant to be offensive, the shop's owner testified Friday at a hearing to decide whether the policy was discriminatory.
Joe Vento, the owner of Geno's Steaks, defended his policy before the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, which filed the discrimination complaint.
"This country is a melting pot, but what makes it work is the English language," Vento told the commission. "I'm not stupid. I would never put a sign out to hurt my business."
Vento posted two small signs in October 2005 at his shop in a diverse South Philadelphia neighborhood, telling customers, "This is AMERICA: WHEN ORDERING PLEASE 'SPEAK ENGLISH.'"
[ oh really? i don't see the word PLEASE on that sign he's holding. unless it's that little bit of red by the nape of the eagle's neck. in that case, shouldn't it read "PLEASE WHEN ORDERING 'SPEAK ENGLISH'"? i get the feeling these signs were printed in China. . .]
He said Friday that he posted the sign because of concerns over the debate on immigration reform and the increasing number of people from the area who could not order in English.
But he said he also wanted to keep the line moving at his busy store.
"The case should, without question, be dismissed," Vento attorney Shannon L. Goessling said. "There is a legitimate business purpose for this sign."
Paul M. Hummer, an attorney for the commission, testified earlier that the sign is not about political speech, but about "intimidation," and that it suggested business from certain individuals was not wanted.
[ uh, would that REALLY be so bad? i'm sure business from counterfeiters, robbers and thugs is not wanted. discrimination is NOT intimidation. also, if it's not about political speech, why are politicians sticking their big fat unwanted noses in it?! ]
No ruling is expected for at least two months, the three-member panel said.
[ well, at least it's only THREE people getting paid to do nothing, instead of nine or twelve. ]
After extensive publicity in 2006, the commission began investigating whether Vento violated a city ordinance that prohibits discrimination in employment, public accommodation and housing on the basis of race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.
[ well, gee, i'm no highfalootin big city lawyer, but it seems to me that the signs are clearly aimed at customers, and he runs a flipping restaurant! how does this have ANYTHING to do with employment, public accommodation or housing??? not to mention it has ZILCH to do with race, ethnicity or sexual orientation! could it be the politicians only act on things the media brings to everyone's attention?]
In February, the commission found probable cause against Geno's Steaks for discrimination, alleging that the policy at the shop discourages customers of certain backgrounds from eating there.
Friday's hearing was held at the Arch Street Meeting House, given to the Philadelphia Quakers by William Penn in 1693. The building is billed as a symbol of "tolerance, equality and peace."
Vento arrived carrying a bouquet of red and white roses. He met some resistance outside the hall, with protesters carrying signs reading, "No Hate in Our Town." About 100 people were in attendance when the meeting started shortly after 1:30 p.m, but only a few dozen were left when testimony ended shortly before 8 p.m.
[ WHERE IS THE HATE, YOU WHINY LITTLE TWITS?! i'll tell ya where...it's right HERE! i hate stupidity! ]
Vento told of starting his steak shop in 1966 with just $6 and developing it into a multimillion-dollar business.
Camille Charles, a sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, testified that Vento's signs harken back to the "Whites only" postings of the Jim Crow era.
"The signs give a feeling of being unwelcome and being excluded," Charles said.
oh, brother. this whole situation is SO far beyond the bounds of reasonable or sane, i don't even know where to start.
do only WHITE people speak English in this country? are there particular racial, ethnic or sexually oriented groups that (on the basis of one of those three attributes, mind you) DO NOT speak English in this country? is this woman a sociology professor, or a social sensitivity and potential for taking offense professor? how much money goes into this retarted Commission on Human Relations, so that they can find stupid, trivial things like this to complain about and take to court? oh yeah, thank goodness our judicial system will be tied up with utter nonsense like this, while felons sit in jail waiting for a trial. this entire fiasco is almost certainly going to cost MILLIONS of dollars, pretty much ALL of it coming from the public's pockets.
and what about a proprietor's right to refuse service? it's NOT on the basis of race, ethnicity or sexual orientation! it's on the basis of the potential customer being unable to communicate what they want! believe me, there are PLENTY of white people in this country whose grasp of English is just as bad as a fresh-off-the-boat Mexican's. if this restaurateur put up a little sign somewhere (in the event that he hasn't already) stating that the management reserves the right to refuse service based on inability to communicate, would this whole ugly mess of inanity go bye-bye?
i don't think ANY person with even the slightest shred of intelligence would argue that we DO NOT have serious problems in this country; massive issues involving the economy, the military, crime, drugs, corrupt and/or incompetent politicians, need i go on? it's downright pathetic that some folks who achieve just a wee bit of power or authority over others will drum up rubbish charges like this. then again, i guess if they weren't finding witches SOMEWHERE, the hunt would end and they could no longer feed at the taxpayers' teat.
this sort of ludicrousness ought to be a clarion call to all American voters. apathy will get us nothing but more of the same governmental garbage. EVERY government representative, regardless of level, power, and salary, has got to be held fully accountable for every penny they spend or waste. let's put a bit more resources toward the Government Accountability Office and a lot less toward these silly "keep everybody perfectly happy at all times and in all places" commissions. you'll recall that the founding fathers wrote of the rights to "Life, liberty and THE PURSUIT OF happiness." it is NOT our government's (or anybody else's) job to keep the entire populace from any unpleasant thing, any potentially bothersome or offensive sign (ooh, remember that thing we used to have called the First Amendment?), any harsh or scary reality of life. furthermore, any person whose greatest goal in life is to achieve perpetual happiness will never come CLOSE to doing so, unless a quantity of drugs sufficient to destroy all higher functions of the brain is involved.
all those who LIKE the idea of having a government that plays nanny and does its best to insulate the public from a world full of ugly truths, please seek it in another land. as for the rest of us, it takes dogged determination and hard work to deflate a seriously bloated body politic in a Republic. notice how a big majority of the people who sat in on that meeting had left before it was over? six or seven hours of one's time apparently requires a lot more outrage than they had in 'em. but if somebody approaches them on the street and tells them a cheesesteak shop owner is RACIST and doesn't want certain people eating there, heck, they've got enough righteous indignation to grab a sign that somebody else made and march around on their lunch break -- then of course feel very good inside for being so socially conscious. freedom is not free, and liberty can indeed be taken away; history has made these facts painfully clear. let us never forget these words, uttered so wisely by Abraham Lincoln (as most of his words were): That government is best which governs least.
personally, i don't see this as a partisan issue at all. i know many people have the point of view that such uber-sensitivity is knee-jerk liberal bleeding heart political correctness ("Oh no, the PC Police!") -- or something similar to that -- but i have to say that bloated government and ppl being paid way too much to do way too little is NOT a problem that can be blamed on one party. just to add some grist to the mill, consider how much the fed'l gov't has grown under Bush, an alleged conservative. i realize it's not a simple cut-and-dried thing, but neither is an ever-increasing (and increasingly more infringing and nosy) government.
And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts:
for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.