PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The long-time owner of Geno’s Steaks in South Philadelphia has passed away.

Joey Vento died of a massive heart attack at his home at about 5:30 p.m. He was 71-years-old. Vento reportedly passed away on his way to the hospital.

The controversial owner of one of Philadelphia’s premier cheesesteak shops made national headlines in June 2006 when he posted a sign at the store saying “This is America: When Ordering Speak English.” At the time, Vento said he posted the signs in reaction to the ongoing debate over immigration reform.

Vento underwent surgery at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center after being diagnosed with colon/rectal cancer several months ago.

According to Geno’s website, “In 1966, Joe started “Geno’s” with $6.00 in his pocket, 2 boxes of steaks and some hot dogs.”

Joe learned the cheesesteak business from his father, who in the early 1940’s opened “Jim’s Steaks.”

A memorial was held at Geno’s Steaks Tuesday night to remember the owner.

Click here for reaction from Geno’s Steaks employees.

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