Gioia's Deli on The Hill was named a James Beard America's Classics honoree this morning. It's one of five "regional establishments, often family-owned, that are treasured for their quality food, local character, and lasting appeal" designated this year. It's also the first St. Louis to win the coveted title.
Co-owner Alex Donley says he found out three months ago while he was at a movie with his daughter, but was sworn to secrecy. "I only told my wife and my mom – Mom's gotta know, too," he laughs. "I said, 'You know we're a sandwich shop, right?' James Beard is so prestigious that you never think we could be honored in that way."
Gioia's opened in 1918 and was purchased by the Donley family in 1980. Owners Alex and Amanda Donley launched a food truck in 2014 and opened a second location in Downtown St. Louis last spring. Gioia's is famous for its hot salami sandwich, made in-house with freshly baked bread from Fazio's bakery and cured meats from Volpi Salumeria.
"Through it all, the recipe for Gioia's signature hot salami hasn't changed. The salami is hot as in temperature, not as in spice," the James Beard Foundation raves. "That said, the (mostly) secret blend of pork-head meat, beef and seasonings packs a peppery bite. It's a fresh, boiled sausage, with a texture like coarse pâté and a flavor that is porky, earthy, a little funky. Topped with the city's beloved cheese, Provel, it's a dish that has traveled from Italian to Italian-American to thoroughly St. Louisan."
“There's been two things we've focused on: quality of food and community," Donley says of Gioia's continuing success. "The Hill is a very special place, and it's part of our soul, our core values. We've been processing [the hot salami] in the same room using the same recipe for 100 years; it's almost sacred to us. We take St. Louis very seriously – we love this community – and people gravitate toward that."
According to the Beard Foundation, "to qualify for the America's Classics award, establishments must have been in existence at least ten years and be locally owned. The honorees are selected each year by the James Beard Foundation's Restaurant & Chef Awards committee, a group composed of restaurant critics, writers, editors and other experts."
Donley also says that Gioia's is looking at a third location in Creve Coeur, Missouri. "We're really going to focus on our catering business [in 2017], but we have a couple opportunities out there," he says. "We don't want to grow unless it's right. When you're 100 years old, it's not like you have to, but if the opportunity is right, we're going to go to a third location."
Editor's note: This post has been updated with comments from Alex Donley.