Perhaps in the midst of all our current problems, the world is starting to right itself. Amighetti’s is returning to the Hill.
It will not be at the Wilson Avenue location across from St. Ambrose Catholic Church, but if we really want to be old-school about this, it didn’t move to that location until 1921. The bakery began operations on Daggett Avenue in 1917. If it can move once, it can move twice. Its new location will be on Southwest Avenue.
The bakery was started by Luigi Amighetti, an Italian immigrant. His son, Louis, who was called Junior — and yes, he later became Uncle Junior — grew up working in the bakery. When he was 16, he traveled alone to Italy. Italian authorities decided he was Italian. He was conscripted into the Army. After a couple of years, he escaped, and stowed away on a ship back to this country. After Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the U.S. Army, thus becoming one of what has to be a select group — men who served for the Axis Powers and the Allies.
He served in our Army as a cook. He earned the rank of sergeant.
He returned home to the bakery on Wilson Avenue. He got married, had two kids and got divorced. In 1965, while living alone in an apartment above the bakery, he was assaulted and robbed. Two men threw a sheet over his head and beat him until he lost consciousness. The case was never solved.
He hired a part-time bookkeeper, Marge Sanders. They eventually married. She was a divorcee. Ambitious. And why not? She looked at photos of Harlan Sanders — better know as Colonel Sanders — and decided they were related. “He looked just like my grandfather,” she told me last week.
In 1969, Marge came up with a plan. The bakery would start selling sandwiches. They would be wonderful sandwiches. They would be called Amighetti Specials.
Junior was not enamored with the idea. Especially the name. “Nobody can even pronounce it,” he said to Marge. “Everybody will learn how to pronounce it,” she said.
It took her eight months to figure out the exact formula. The sandwich was an immediate hit.
By the way, Marge contacted Harlan Sanders and they met when he came to town on a promotional tour. They agreed that they were related. He gave her a watch.
Despite the success of the sandwich, Junior’s heart was still in the bakery side of the business. In 1982, a story in this newspaper said, “When Louis Amighetti talks about baking bread, he sounds like a poet, referring to the perfume of the yeast and the bloom of the bread.” In that story, Junior said, “I never criticize anyone’s bread, because everyone has a little bit of himself in his bread.”
Marge had dreams of expansion. She contacted the brewery. Many of its executives were customers. A deal was put together. But it did not work out. Marge and Junior sold the bakery in 1994. The new owners expanded on a smaller scale.
In 2014, Anthony Favazza was looking at investment opportunities. He is from the Favazza restaurant family. He had a law degree from the University of Virginia. He was looking for something in technology. The broker, knowing his background, told him Amighetti’s Bakery on the Hill was for sale. But only as a franchisee. Favazza was not interested in being a franchisee. He wanted control. So he passed.
Two years later, the broker called. The owner was willing to sell control. Favazza would get the Amighetti’s restaurant on Manchester Road in Rock Hill, and the franchisee on the Hill would continue as a franchisee.
Favazza made the deal. He said he wanted to make changes. Fresher produce, better cuts of meat, no more microwaving the “Taste of Italy” sandwiches. (That’s their second biggest seller.) “Bread and microwaves don’t go together,” Favazza said.
The franchisee on the Hill did not accept the changes. The final blow-up came over pepperoncini stems. “I have never liked stems in sandwiches,” said Favazza. “I told Dominic (Consolino) that he had to cut the stems off. He wouldn’t do it.”
The bakery on the Hill shut down.
In a recent column, I mentioned the dispute over pepperoncini stems. Favazza called. He said he will be opening a new Amighetti’s on the Hill. (The restaurant in Rock Hill also will remain open.) He said he was opening in a new location because he had had a falling out with the owner of the building on Wilson Avenue.
The new location will be on Southwest Avenue in the old Hanneke Hardware store. In a very St. Louis turn of events, the construction manager is Chuck Shackelford. He is Gloria Amighetti’s son, Junior’s nephew. The architect is Ken Burns. His uncles owned the historic hardware store.
Favazza said he hopes to be open in the fall.