James Beard Foundation declares Gioia's Deli an American Classic


The James Beard Foundation has announced the five recipients of its 2017 America's Classics award, and one of St. Louis’ longtime favorites has landed on the list. Gioia’s Deli is the first St. Louis restaurant to receive the honor since the award’s inception in 1998.


“It’s a whirlwind. It’s been crazy,” said co-owner Alex Donley. He received news of the event late last year. “I was sitting in a movie theater with my daughter, and I got this call from New York. I just ignored it. I thought it was someone wanting money or something.”


Gioia’s Deli opened in 1918 and began life as a grocery store. The Gioia family sold the deli to the Donley family in 1980, when it began a second incarnation as a lunch spot famous for its Hot Salami sandwich. The Gioia’s food truck debuted in 2014, and a second location opened downtown, with the same menu as the original restaurant, last year.


To qualify for the award, restaurants have to have been in business for at least 10 years and be locally owned. The America’s Classic award honors restaurants that “have timeless appeal and are cherished for quality food that reflects the character of their community,” according to the announcement from the James Beard Foundation.


"In an ever-changing culinary landscape, these honorees have created enduring restaurants and food establishments that have not only stood the test of time, but continue to bring people together in celebration of the unique flavors in America’s vast food scene,” Susan Ungaro, president of the James Beard Foundation, said in the announcement.


Donley said he’s ready for a bump in business once word of the award gets out. “We’re so excited,” he said. “We’re preparing for the storm and making sure the lines won’t be too long.”


The other awardees include La Taqueria in San Francisco; Sahadi’s in Brooklyn; Schultz’s Crab House in Essex, Maryland; and Bertha’s Kitchen in Charleston, South Carolina. Gioia’s Deli and the rest of this year's winners will be recognized on Monday, May 1 at the James Beard Foundation Awards Gala in Chicago.


Matt Sorrell is a staff writer for Sauce Magazine.