Friday, September 11, 2009

Geno’s Steaks Cheesesteak Review

Geno’s Steaks Philly Cheesesteak Review

What can be said of the Great Geno’s Steaks! Even if I was to write a completely negative review of them today, the facts are still facts. Geno’s Steaks is one of if the most popular Philly cheese steak shops in the world. I would like to go over some basic facts about Geno’s before I proceed into my review.

Joe Vento, the owner of Geno’s Steaks, started this amazing business in 1966. The real history begins with his father who opened the famous Jim’s Steaks in the early 1940’s. This is where Joe Vento learned many of the ways of the cheese steak business that were setting the foundations for his future empire.

Vento wanted to open his business across the street from the undisputed King of cheese steaks, Pat’s King of Steaks. All others who had tried this feat had failed. But Joe Vento was confident that he had a good product so he wanted to give it a try. First, he needed to select a name so he thought about Joe’s Steaks but there already was a popular cheese steak place with the name at that time. The origins of the name of the business actually came from a carved name on the door of his building that said “Gino.” At that time there was another business nearby named Gino’s with an “I” so he decided to call it Geno’s with an “e.” Years later in 1971, Joe Vento named his son after his business (instead of the usual other way around). So the real Geno from Geno’s Steak is actually the second generation of that business. Geno today acts as the general and public relations manager.

Joe Vento’s Geno’s Steaks is a rather new business compared to the other famous Philly cheese steak places that exist like Pat’s and Jim’s. But in a period of over 40 years Joe has managed to make his business become a million dollar empire. On any given day, Geno’s Steaks averages around $20,000.

Geno’s Steaks has one main shop located at 1219 S. 9th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147 in the South Philadelphia area. Geno’s also has a warehouse across the street used for the prep work of the steaks. Across the street from that is Joe Vento’s building used to display his Harley Davidson collection. That is what is different about Geno’s.

Joe Vento is a cheese steak owner unlike no other. He loves the fame and glamour. Between his Harley collection and all of the neon lights to his building you would never know that the oldest cheese steak place existed across the street if there weren’t any lines there. His side of the cheese steak spot appears to be a section out of Old Las Vegas.

Geno’s Steaks has helped take the cheese steak business to the level that it is today. Joe Vento and his son Geno have excellent business and public relations skills. They know how to get media attention and use it to their advantage. It has been thier marketing skills that have helped the Philadelphia cheese steak market take the international spotlight. Philadelphia tourism is interconnected with the cheese steak business and many have not given the proper credit to Joe Vento. Joe is a marketing genius behind all his tough guy façade. His ingenuity actually began the first day that he chose the location for his business. Only a person who true vision would have built their business on the door step of the greatest competitor in their field.

At the time Vento started his business, Pat’s King of Steak was thriving and all his competitors who tried to rival Pat’s were defeated eventually and their businesses failed. Not Joe Vento. Joe used his competitor as leverage to build his business. He already knew that he had a good product and all he needed to do was capture the leftovers from the line across the street. Eventually, they would become repeat visitors. What Vento had created was a friendly rivalry created by the fuel of competition. This friendly rivalry, in my opinion, is what helped create the Geno’s of today. People like to have an alternative to compare when eating. The famous question in Philly is “Do you like Pat’s or Geno’s better?” This question is the foundation of Joe Vento’s game plan. He knew that if he could create competition then this would be good for his business (and indirectly Pat’s). If he could find a way to make money for Geno’s Steaks and Pat’s at the same time, Pat’s wouldn’t be reluctant in sharing some of the profits. Vento’s gamble worked and well.

Forty plus years later and Geno’s business is filled with visitors every day from all around the world. Geno’s has seen almost every celebrity imagined from the President to Michael Jordan. If you are in Philly then you have to go to Pat’s or Geno’s at least once in your life time. This is at least the way tourism in Philly directs the traffic. Vento actually created a celebrity booth inside his operation to handle all famous visitors.

The good thing about Joe Vento is that he gives back to his community. The man donates to charities all of the time. When a police officer died in the 1980’s, he donated 24 hours worth of revenues to his fund. During September 11, 2001, Geno’s Steaks donated 72 hours of business to the fallen police and firefighters. That amounted to well over $100,000. Vento loves to help the police organizations out. You will see his wall at his steakhouse that has badges from many police and fire departments throughout the country.

Vento is also known for his strange stunts that cause media attention. One of the most controversial was his sign that he put in his window and still is there that says “This is America when ordering please speak English.” Many have argued that this is not just for the newer immigrants who come here. Joe Vento likes it and it is his store so three years later and the sign is still up. I guess Joe won.

Time for my review. I have spoke very favorably thus far of Geno’s Steaks and the Vento family. From a business standpoint, I respect a man who works hard and can pull off the American dream from his efforts. But don’t think that I am siding with them and would compromise my review for a little kiss ass. I can care less. This review will be as tough as I always dish it. Take the good with the bad but this is my review.

When I went o Geno’s recently I order a cheese steak with cheese whiz, a birch beer, and a side of cheese fries. The cheese steak cost $8, the fries and soda cost $5.50. So my meal total was $13.50 – not too shabby for one of the most popular cheese steaks in the world.

Geno’s Steaks uses thinly slice rib eye steak in their sandwiches just like Pat’s. This is the opposite of Jim’s where they used chopped steak. Geno’s bread is local Italian bread not too thick and not too hard. The bread is a fine combo between soft and hard, also known as just right. The cheese that I ordered was cheese whiz but you can get American or provolone. The onions were lightly grilled (you don’t see a speck of burnt on them). Also, I added hot peppers from the stand out front. Please always take advantage of these as they are a treat that other steak places don’t have.

There were several slices of steak on the cheese steak. The steak is very cooked. You will not see a drop of blood on there. This is your typical red blood steak joint. All steaks are cooked in a consistent manner (and have been for many years). It is similar to McDonald’s. If you went in one of their franchises on two different sides of the planet you will probably experience a similar tasting hamburger. Joe Vento has his steaks down to a science. The best part about Vento’s operation that I have to give him credit is that he is clean. The man is meticulous with every part of his operation (even the ceilings) totally clean.

Overall, Geno’s cheese steak is the same as it has been for the past twenty plus years. My review in the eighties would have been the same as today. The steak is always consistent. I recommend that you visit Geno’s Steaks at least once. However, I will tell you that his steaks are not the best Philly cheese steak. Geno’s is one of the most popular cheese steak places (if not the most popular) but not the absolute best. Geno’s may have been the best at one point in time when his market was targeting the locals. Now his business targets mainly tourists.

You will rarely see a local going to his place. Why do you think that his cheese steaks are $8 each and are a quarter of the size of an average Philly cheese steak from a Philly cheese steak place? And where do you think all this bull**t about order properly came about? This all came about with the increase in dumb tourists that slow up the line.

Do you think Vento and his crew would talk that way to local South Philadelphians? I assure you that he wouldn’t be in business to this day if that was the case. South Philadelphians don’t like to be told how to order. They would usually respond with “go F**k yourself” and then never to return. All this nonsense with make sure you know how to order and know what whiz and without is crap. Whenever I go there I always order my way and wait for someone to tell me how to order so that I can knock their lights out – that is the Philly way. Tourists will never get it that this order properly in English crap is a) Just a marketing tool and b) a mind game for dumb tourists. This is how Geno’s employees get their kicks (it can be boring flipping steaks all day long).

Vento and his Geno’s Steaks get an A for marketing skills, cleanliness, business skills, and consistency. Their steaks are average though, the size is too small, and the price tag is too high. However, for first timers you have to do it at least once. As a Philadelphian, despite the disadvantages of Geno’s Steaks, I still go there at least once a year and have been doing so for many years (many, many , many). So I guess my consistency as a customer speaks for itself. I do want to acknowledge though that there are plenty of dynamite cheese steak places in Philly that in a competition would surely beat out Geno’s Steaks. Stay tuned to Best Philly Cheese Steaks as I will uncover these Philly cheese steak places that only the locals know of!

Geno's Steaks on Urbanspoon


  1. Pat's Steaks is better than Geno's!

  2. I tried a cheese steak sandwich today from Geno's for the first time. It was completely bland. The only reason I would ever go back is because of it's historical significance but I must say that if that is what is considered to be a great cheese steak - I probably just don't like cheese steaks!

  3. Former Philly boy living in NC...

    Both those S Philly joints, nothin but hype. Went once to Genos. Why pay $8 for a small sandwich when you can get more for less and a decent steak at nearly any local joint in SE PA. I cringe everytime I watch sports and see the inevitable cut away to 9th and Passyunk.

  4. Geno's is worth every penny. Pat's is the worst Cheese Steak I have eaten in my life. The bread was not fresh and the steak was dry like it had been sitting there for 3 days. Geno's steak is juicy, sliced to perfection and layered on fresh bread. "Wit" onions sweet peppers and provolone. Grab 2 or 3 hot cherry peppers from the bin and experience the love.

    My cousins from Philly always tell me there are better Cheese Steaks in SE PA than Geno's and maybe there are, but when I tried other places they were like Steak & Cheese or Steak bombs (Peppers, mushrooms, onion and either salami, peperoni, sausage or cappicola) in Boston. In Boston we have good steak bombs but they are different than a Geno's Cheese Steak. Philly knows Cheese Steak.

  5. The sign says $8.00 but the woman charged me $9.

  6. My son went there and said..."What the heck is all the hype about?" According to him, way too small and high priced. Another place that has fallen to corporate greed. Too bad.