ST. LOUIS — If there would ever be a Walk of Fame down the streets of The Hill, you can bet Marjorie Amighetti’s name would be on the short list.
She’s mostly English and a little Scandinavian and Irish as well. The blood that runs through Mrs. Amighetti is absolutely 0% Italian.
Still, after decades of giving The Hill her all, 92-year-old Mrs. Amighetti’s heart beats with an Italian accent.
“I’m like Tony Bennett. He left his heart in San Francisco. I left my heart on The Hill,” she told 5 On Your Side during an interview for an Abby Eats St. Louis podcast episode.
She hasn’t always lived in St. Louis’ Italian neighborhood. Amighetti grew up near Bloomington, Illinois, which is about halfway between St. Louis and Chicago. When she outgrew the small country town – as she described it – Amighetti bucked the trend of heading north to Chicago and instead made her way to St. Louis.
Before she became Mrs. Amighetti, she became Mr. Amighetti’s bookkeeper. Louis was great at baking but not so much at keeping track of the dough. After a few bumps along the road, he wasn’t sure he could do it alone anymore.
“And he says, ‘I need a right arm.’ And I looked at him and I says, ‘Is that a proposal?’ And so, I accepted. And that’s how it all became… that’s the way it started,” she recalled.
That was back in the 1970s when Mrs. Amighetti married into what was one of the most storied bakeries in a neighborhood filled with excellent Italian foods.
Amighetti’s Bakery started in 1916 by Luigi Amighetti, who’d immigrated to the neighborhood just three years earlier from northern Italy. He started going by the name Louis and eventually had a son he also named Louis, who took over the family business in the 1950s.
Enter Marge – as she’s known – who began turning Amighetti’s into a full-fledged restaurant.
“I knew that we couldn't live on the money from just bread alone,” she recalled.
Mrs. Amighetti started playing around with sandwich ingredients and recipes. She said it took her eight months to reach perfection, even though Mr. Amighetti was a little skeptical along the way.
“He said, ‘Why are you down here this early?’ And I said, ‘Because I’m going to develop a sandwich. I’m gonna call it an Amighetti’s Special.’”
She said her husband insisted on not naming it after their bakery.
“I says, ‘They’re going to get up saying Amighetti’s and go to bed saying Amighetti’s, and they’re going to be wanting an Amighetti’s Special,’” Marge recalled.
“And I says, ‘I'll be bringing the world to our feet.’”
And, it happened.
A guest book that was inside Amighetti’s features signatures of dignitaries from all over the world. Mrs. Amighetti was featured in news articles and programs in celebration of her sandwich at the national level. In St. Louis, she was stopped on the street for autographs. People knew her face not just from being behind the deli counter but from the ads she’d taken out on the city’s busiest bus lines – the first to do so in the St. Louis area, she said.
The sandwich itself is simple enough: Amighetti’s fresh-made Italian bread, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onion, pepperoncini, ham, roast beef and salami. What makes the Amighetti Special so special is the sauce – thick like mayonnaise and sweet like Italian dressing.
When asked how she got her famous sandwich to be just right, Mrs. Amighetti’s response was simple.
“By the taste, I guess.”
But she also follows another philosophy.
“It's trusting God, believe in yourself and you dare to dream. And boy, did I dream big with the sandwiches!”
The Amighetti Special is still the top menu item at the restaurant’s location on Manchester in Rock Hill.
All these decades later, Mrs. Amighetti and her special sandwich are finding new life in the challenging COVID-19 restaurant scene. Along with the current owner of Amighetti’s – Anthony Favazza – they’ve found a new way to innovate.
They’re now getting that special, signature sauce – along with their salad dressings – into bottles that can be shipped around the country.
“I’m very proud of this, very proud,” Mrs. Amighetti said.
This story is a companion piece to the Abby Eats St. Louis podcast episode called "Life, love, and sandwiches with Mrs. Amighetti". You can download the episode for free and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We've included links below to some of the most popular podcast platforms.