joe fassi sausage & sandwich factory on the hill photo by leah clay-downing

Joe Fassi Sausage & Sandwich Factory is a St. Louis landmark

If you were on the Hill 40 years ago, it’s quite likely you would have seen an old baby blue Ford van weaving through the neighborhood, hitching up on curbs, idling while a man named Joe ran an order of sausages into a customer’s ice box. Those sausages hadn’t traveled far – just a few blocks from what was then known as Fassi’s Market on Sublette Avenue. They were beyond fresh, their casings stuffed just that morning by a hand-cranked machine. The sausages had been nipped with string by a lad called Tom who – because it was summer and school was out – was helping his grandpa with his rounds.

Tom Coll helped out in other ways as well. It was he who wrestled the pork butts onto the butcher block in back, and, once the meat had been ground, it was his job to stir in the spices. “My grandfather paid me and my friend with a sandwich,” Coll, 57, said. “We thought we were getting the world.”

Coll’s sausage isn’t hand-tied anymore, and the machinery is more modern these days, but he’s still operating as Joe Fassi Sausage & Sandwich Factory, and the sausages are still made in the very same building on Sublette where his great grandfather, “Papa” Paul Fassi, opened his grocery store in 1926. With a nephew potentially interested in eventually taking over, Coll is confident he won’t be the last in the family to own the business. 


the meatball sandwich from joe fassi sausage & sandwich factory // photo by leah clay-downing


During Prohibition, the store served as an ice cream parlor, and for a time it also ran a brisk trade selling sugar to moonshiners on the Hill. Coll’s grandfather and great uncles took over the business sometime in the 1930s. His mother, Rose Coll, was born in a room above the shop – delivered, as it happened, by a midwife who also had ties to sausage. “Mrs. Volpi delivered all the babies on the Hill,” Coll said.

Fassi’s may be a little apart, geographically, from other Italian sandwich emporia in the neighborhood, but it certainly leaves an impression. The inside dizzies with red and green signage, advertising things like Fassi’s “Marco Polo” and “lunch buster” meal deals. In the spaces in between, old family photographs tell the story of one of St. Louis’s oldest restaurants. Here’s one of Tom’s Great Aunt Mary, in a flapper-ish dress; there’s another of Great Aunt Jennie in a wedding gown. And up above the tables, on a high shelf, is that old hand-crank sausage stuffer, which looks like it could be a giant’s putty gun.

Even at three in the afternoon, customers come in at a clip. Choices abound, but most people seem to know what they want ahead of time. A freezer by the counter is packed with meatballs and three types of sausage. Behind the counter, putting up the odd lazy bubble, is a vat of deliciously herby tomato sauce (Coll’s dad’s recipe) that can also be packaged to go.

“I always get the meatball sandwich,” said a man in work overalls who was wrapping up a late lunch. “It’s a classic. When I want one, this is where I come.” Coll says the same, even though he’s been prepping them for others for 32 years. But sometimes he has a sausage which might be a salamete with red wine and garlic, or a luganiga flavored with sherry wine and nutmeg.

Customer Nick Traina, with an Italian mother and roots in Palermo, Sicily, was ordering the Vince Fassi Salsiccia Slam with roast beef and pepper cheese. “I know Italian food,” he said. Meanwhile, another man was coming through the door. “What’s it going to be, Jimbo?” Coll said.

2323 Sublette Ave., St. Louis, 314.647.5158,