ST. LOUIS — The recipe of Gioia Deli’s hot salami sits in a safe inside the original restaurant on The Hill. Alex Donley’s grandmother wrote the recipe on a piece of paper in red ink and gave it to him.

“Me and my mom probably can’t fly on a plane together,” Donley joked. “We’re the only ones who know it.”

While the recipe is a secret, the popularity of Gioia’s hot salami sandwich keeps growing.

The Food Network named Gioia’s hot salami sandwich as “one of the best sandwiches in America”. Five other St. Louis area sandwiches also made the list.

Donley said he had no idea about the list until a friend sent him a link.

“It’s a complete honor. It blows me away because I go to New York. I go to these places, these iconic sandwich shops and we’re one of them now.”

Donley said he goes through 10,000 pounds of hot salami per month. The restaurant can make up to 3,000 pounds in one hour. Gioia’s slices up 300 loaves of bread per day. The bread comes from Fazio’s Bakery.

The secret to the sandwich is the freshness of the meat, he said. It is never frozen. The sandwich makers slice the meat in front of the customer.

“It never cools down," he said. "That’s the key to its success. The fact that we are so busy is the reason we can do that.”

Despite the awards and notoriety, Donley said he still finds joy in serving customers on the sandwich line, many of whom are regulars.

“I may not know your name, but I’ll know your sandwich.”

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