By Frier McCollister
Pasadena Weekly Contributing Writer
Before visiting the Italian sandwich shop Hey That’s Amore, it might pay to review Francis Ford Coppola’s classic film, “The Godfather.”
Many of the elaborately constructed sandwiches are named for the film’s characters, and the small dining room’s walls are covered with framed posters of the movie, along with other mob-related features like Scorcese’s “Goodfellas” and De Palma’s “Scarface.”
No, the Soprano family entourage is not clustered at a back table playing cards here.
“Actually, I loved the movies (especially) ‘The Godfather,’” said Asieh Baghdaserians, the owner and chef at Hey That’s Amore.
“My son (Patrick Baghdaserians) chose the names on my menu, so he helped me and did the decorations with all the (posters) from ‘The Godfather.’”
Indeed, Patrick also devised most of the sandwich recipes.
“For the names, I drew upon my interests in film, music and sports,” said Patrick, who maintains a successful family law practice in Pasadena.
Asieh lives in nearby Montrose with her husband, Art. Their daughter, Elmida, is a college professor. The family emigrated from Tehran to Southern California in 1984.
Art can be found at the store most days holding court by the front window of the dining room. Patrick describes his father as an “integral” part of the experience at Hey That’s Amore. Don’t be shy. Engage Art while awaiting a sandwich order.
“He’s the mascot. He’s an interesting character. He can chat about everything from World Cup soccer to international politics. He speaks six languages,” Patrick said.
Asieh and Art are also no strangers to Italian cuisine. The Baghdaserianses operated a pizzeria in La Crescenta for 13 years before discovering the storefront on Holly Street in 2006. They bought it from the original owners, who had struggled to maintain the small coffee shop on the site, with the same name.
“When I opened here, there was no Subway. Nothing,” Asieh said.
Hey That’s Amore shut down cold on March 14, 2020, as the state-wide pandemic lockdown was declared.
“I don’t want to stay home. I love my shop. One year is boring, (when) I stayed home. But then I come here. I love to come to the shop,” Asieh said.
Asieh and Art didn’t return to open the shop until early April of this year, with limited hours. Now open 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Monday to Saturday, Hey That’s Amore reemerged into a new postpandemic neighborhood that is stacked with formidable competition, for the shop’s old lunch-time regulars.
Many of those regulars were nearby office workers and many of them are still working from home.
“They’re from Kaiser (Permanente) and Parsons. They were working from home, so fewer people were coming, not too much. I hope they come back. One by one, they’re coming. They’re happy that I’m open,” Asieh said. “All of my customers are like family to me. They are very nice people. Some customers are very nice. They respect me because I’m old.”
Among one group of loyalists she’s known as “the hottest big mama.”
The 33 elaborately crafted sandwich choices are displayed above the counter on two large panels. They’re grouped under thematic headings. “Wonders of the World” features five options, with the most notable being the former greatest sandwich in the world ($12.99), stuffed with salami, prosciutto, soppressata, sun-dried tomatoes, provolone, lettuce and fresh tomatoes. Right below it is the greatest sandwich in the world ($12.99), with meatballs wrapped in salami and soppressata, red onions, pepperoncini and provolone.
When asked about the relationship between the two sandwiches, Asieh was vague.
“I don’t know. When we made it, it was good, so we put this name on it,” she said, referring to the greatest. She clearly has a favorite, though.
“I like the former,” she said definitively. Patrick revealed that, in a brainstorming session, a childhood friend suggested the successive name scheme.
The cast of characters from “The Godfather” appear in the next section of the menu, under the title “An Offer You Can’t Refuse.”
The Don Corleone ($10.99) features salami and prosciutto with sun-dried tomatoes and provolone, dressed in mayonnaise and mustard. The Michael Corleone ($10.99) swaps in soppressata for the prosciutto and adds lettuce. The Hyman Roth ($9.99) has pastrami and pickles, while the Tom Hagen ($9.99) sports roast beef as the protein.
There are three sandwiches in the section labeled Vampire Repellent, all of which employ garlic pesto, including the Fat Anthony ($11.99). House sandwich designer Patrick notes it represents one of his more original creations. It combines turkey with soppressata and the garlic pesto plus jalapenos, provolone, lettuce and tomatoes.
Patrick also points to another creative sandwich which is the Danny DeVito ($10.99). Listed in the section named With Friends Like These, this sandwich boasts a stratum of meatballs and sausage laced with jalapenos, onions and provolone covered in mayonnaise and mustard.
This section also has the Shavo Odadjian” ($12.99) and the John Dolmayan ($10.99), respectively named after the bass player and drummer of the band System of a Down. They’re also personal friends of Patrick’s and fans of the sandwich shop.
The traditional meatball sub, Danny Leonetti ($9.99), is named after a partner in Patrick’s law firm. Leonetti was also a fraternity brother of Patrick’s during their undergraduate years at Loyola Marymount University.
For Saturday brunch, post-pandemic wait times routinely exceed an hour at nearby venues like The Pan and Russell’s. Instead of a restless wait on an unshaded sidewalk, pop into Hey That’s Amore and try The Goodfella ($9.99), with scrambled eggs, Italian sausage, provolone, tomatoes and onion. Asieh will prep the sandwich in minutes, while Art expounds and the cool, quiet dining room provides a welcome refuge from the ravenous weekend brunch throngs roving Old Town.
By the way, the sandwich rolls at Hey That’s Amore are produced by the wholesale bakery Bread Los Angeles in Montebello, using the family’s custom proprietary dough recipe. The freshly baked rolls are an undeniably critical and irresistible element in each sandwich’s success here.
“It’s the essence of the American Dream,” said Patrick, describing his immigrant parents’ journey and the complex set of pivots that allowed them to raise a thriving family. “We want to be an integral part of the community.”
Finally, Asieh’s face brightened as she said, “I want everybody to be healthy and happy to come back to work. Let’s go back to normal life. I love Pasadena. It looks like Europe.”