ST. LOUIS – Running one of St. Louis’s best-known sandwich shops and bakeries was hard work, admitted Marge Amighetti.
âI worked hard, but didn’t feel like I was working hard. It was a challenge every day, âshe said.
Amighetti, originally from McLean County, is the widow of Louis “Junior” Amighetti, the second generation owner of Amighetti’s Bakery on The Hill in St. Louis. Together, Marge and Junior Amighetti expanded the bakery into a popular sandwich shop.
Much of the store’s popularity can be attributed to the Amighetti Special, invented by Marge Amighetti and first served in 1969. The restaurant’s current menu says it took eight months to develop.
Amighetti often found herself meeting her husband at the bakery at 4 a.m., she said. She would have a new idea for the sandwich. Eventually she landed on a mixture of roast beef, ham and salami with a few toppings, including pepperoncini and a special sauce.
âIt was the best time of my life and my husband was the best baker ever,â she said.
Customers can still buy the real deal at Amighetti in Rock Hill, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. The Hill flagship location has closed after legal issues with a franchisee, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, but current brand owner Anthony Favazza is considering opening a new location in the neighborhood.
Roots of Route 9
For Marge Amighetti, it all started a little east of Bloomington, along Illinois Highway 9. She was born Marge Sanders in 1927 into a farming family. His father leased about 300 acres from George J. Mecherle, Amighetti said. She remembers sitting on her lap as a child and supporting Mecherle when he tried, unsuccessfully, to get her father to invest in State Farm.
She also knew the Belt family, including Steak ‘n Shake founder Gus Belt and his daughter Wanda Belt.
Growing up around these enterprising families has been something that marked her throughout her life, even after leaving McLean County, she said.
âMaybe that’s what prompted me to take Amighetti and grow him,â she said.
She also came into contact with other Bloomington-Normal movers and shakers while working in the Pantagraph’s classifieds department in the early 1950s.
âI was with The Pantagraph, at least, probably four or five years. I really enjoyed this position, âsaid Amighetti.
Sometimes the mix of urban and rural coverage in her work led to humorous situations, she said. She was working at the front desk once when a man got angry at a classified ad he placed but did not broadcast.
âMy ad is not in the newspaper, I paid for two weeks,â Amighetti recalls.
The announcement had been for Poland China pigs, something Amighetti had known from his childhood in the country. She called the woman who took the ad, who grew up in town.
âShe said, ‘Oh, I thought it was dishes,’â Amighetti said.
Another famous Bloomington resident was working on the Pantagraph at the same time as Amighetti. She remembered Jerry Sohl as kind of an outsider in the newsroom, but overall a great guy.
âHe was going to write a science fiction book; everyone thought he was completely crazy, âshe said.
One day, Amighetti took her coffee break to line up with hers and followed him to a cafe to tell her about her book and encourage her in her dream, she said.
Sohl went on to write more than 20 science fiction novels as well as film and television scripts, most notably for “The Twilight Zone” and “Star Trek: The Original Series”. He was fascinated by the future of Earth, Amighetti said, and she thinks he would be amazed by the progress and changes in the world today.
She fondly remembers her time at the Pantagraph, and a friend, Olivia Partlow, director of the Lincoln Heritage Museum, often brings copies of the diary to Amighetti.
Living on the hill
A husband took Amighetti to Saint-Louis. While the marriage did not last, the move did.
âThe Hill is a great place to live, St. Louis is a great place to live,â she said.
In 1960, she was working as an on-site manager of a building when she learned that Amighetti needed a new accountant. The bakery was only a few blocks away, so she went to apply. She got the job, but an unsolved heist and battery took Junior Amighetti and the bakery out of service for a while, with an uncertain future.
Finally, he was ready to reopen the store. He took her to dinner and asked her to come back to be his right-hand man, Amighetti said.
“And I said, ‘Do I take this as a proposal? Â»Â», She declared.
He agreed, and in the 1970s she finally became Mrs. Amighetti.
Working at the store has allowed her to meet thousands of people, many from all over the world. She kept a guest book for people to sign, and continues to browse it sometimes.
Their partnership lasted for decades, until Junior Amighetti’s death in 2001. They had grown the business together, growing it from The Hill’s only restaurant to a chain of franchises. They had a licensing deal with Anheuser-Busch for a while, Partlow said. However, a boycott of the brewery by other restaurants in the area that sold Anheuser-Busch beers led the brewery to sell the rights soon after.
As the Amighetti brand grew, locations could be found as far as Springfield, Ill., Partlow said.
In 2016, Favazza bought Amighetti’s, and he has since become good friends with Marge Amighetti. He plans to open a new location at The Hill next year, Partlow said.
Amighetti remains a supporter of the Rock Hill restaurant and looks forward to the new location and the return to The Hill.
At 94, Amighetti is still hoping for at least 11 years, she said. However, she will take what she can get and says that she is enjoying her life with every day that comes. She still lives in the St. Louis area.
âIt was just wonderful to have the privilege of being Ms. Amighetti,â she said.
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Contact Connor Wood at (309) 820-3240. Follow Connor on Twitter: @connorkwood