Adriana's on the Hill has become one of St. Louis' most beloved sandwich shops since opening in 1992.
Dianna Guimbarda remembers the exact moment she and her sister, Suzanne Miramonti, hatched their plan to open Adriana’s on the Hill. It was a pleasant evening, and the pair were sitting on Miramonti’s front porch with their mother, the eponymous Adriana. They’d just found out that a corner restaurant on the Hill was for sale, and Miramonti enthusiastically suggested they go in on it together. Guimbarda had other thoughts.
“I said, ‘No fricking’ way,’ only I didn’t use the word fricking,” Guimbarda laughs. “Mom was like, ‘What the hell; let’s do it,’ but I kept saying, ‘You can’t work with family.’ Thirty years later, look at this. I can’t say we’re no worse for the wear, but here we are.” In the 30 years since Guimbarda acquiesced, Adriana’s has gone on to become one of the St. Louis area’s most beloved sandwich shops. From their corner storefront — complete with that characteristic Mediterranean-blue awning and green-tiled entryway — Guimbarda, Miramonti and, of course, Mamma Adriana, craft subs and Sicilian specialties that exemplify not only the quintessential St. Louis Italian deli but the Hill experience itself.
However, the seeds of Adriana’s go back much further than that fateful porch conversation in 1992 — all the way back to the 1930s when their grandfather, Ben Fazio, moved to St. Louis from Sicily. Drawn to the city by a job in his brother’s successful bakery, Fazio’s, he learned the trade and eventually went on to open his own bread shop on the Hill.
The shop is named for beloved matriarch Mamma Adriana.
Adriana grew up near her father’s bakery, and when she started her own family, she remained. This was essential; a single mother who worked as a waitress, Adriana relied upon her extended family to help care for her three daughters, a formative time for them filled with love and food.
“Being an immigrant, everything is tied to family,” Miramonti says. “We were engulfed by the rest of the family at an early age — Mom would work, and we were with Nonna and Grandpa, aunts and uncles. Only Sicilian was spoken to us, and food was a huge part of everything. Nobody sat in the family room on the couch. We always sat around the kitchen table.”
It was natural that Guimbarda, Miramonti and their little sister, Tia Zanti, would pick up on their family’s cooking skills. From tending to the summer garden to prepping for the winter freezer, the girls were surrounded by food. They also learned to cook, first from their grandmother and eventually from their grandfather when their grandmother got sick and could no longer handle the kitchen duties. All three soaked up this knowledge and learned to make their family’s Sicilian-style ravioli, greens, spinach pie, octopus and pizza; however, it was Miramonti who took the know-how and ran with it.
“We all know how to cook, but Suzanne loves to cook,” Guimbarda says. “We do it out of necessity, but she does it because she loves it.”
Many of the sandwiches are named for family members.
By the time the sisters entered adulthood, they had firmly established themselves in the service industry as a server and bartender, respectively. However, they were open to opportunity, which Miramonti found in the form of that corner restaurant. Once Guimbarda got behind the idea, the sisters took over the eatery, renamed it after their mother and continued to offer the same menu that had been in place before it changed hands.
Things were slow going until the sisters decided to put their own spin on things, adding more sandwiches and the Sicilian dishes they grew up eating, including their family’s sauce. Their business took off, and with Mamma Adriana working the front register and serving as the restaurant’s matriarch, the spot quickly became an institution that carved out its own niche in the Hill’s robust sandwich scene. Guimbarda and Miramonti credit their delicious sandwiches — many named after family members — and family recipes for their success, but they feel that the most important ingredient is the restaurant’s namesake herself.
“For the first 25 years, our mother was at the register every day,” Miramonti says. “The way she is with people just made them want to come back in and experience her again.”
Adriana’s departure from the register was not the only big change in recent years. Both Guimbarda and Miramonti note the challenges the pandemic has presented to their business and have had to adapt on the fly to new ways of doing things. Their financial lifeline for the last two and a half years has been Adri’s market, a mini grocery and frozen-foods operation filled with heat-and-serve versions of family dishes within the restaurant. It’s helped tremendously, even as they struggle to accommodate their guests in the midst of staffing issues and the general havoc the protracted global health crisis has caused. The sisters admit they are rolling with the punches on it and remain dedicated to keeping Adriana’s going for as long as they can — adapting to the new reality, while fundamentally staying true to who they are.
Adri's Market is a mini grocery store inside Adriana's.
“I hope people know that we appreciate the business, but we are going as fast as we can,” Guimbarda says. “None of us are spring chickens; half our staff is over 50 years old; even the baby of our family is 50. We will do this as long as we can.”
Guimbarda admits this might mean adapting, but there is one piece of Adriana’s that will never change.
“People have asked for us to do online ordering or get a POS system instead of doing handwritten tickets,” Guimbarda says. “But you know what? We are steadfastly against it. With online ordering, people don’t get what they want, and there are too many questions. It’s B.S. I don’t care what happens in the world. Some things have to stay old school.”