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What is with West Virginia and the Pep Roll?

Photo courtesy of Pep Rolls
Photo courtesy of Pep Rolls

West Virginia is proud of its pepperoni roll, a roll stuffed with pepperoni, topped with seasoning, and baked to a golden brown perfection. How did such a trend get started?

What may seem like an unlikely duo—Italian cuisine and mountainous West Virginia—it was a direct result of a time period of booming mines and railroads that attracted many immigrants from Italy. One in particular, Giuseppe “Joseph” Argiro, came to America in order to earn enough money to bring his wife and son over to start a new life.

He did so by working in the mines of West Virginia, where he discovered that the meal of a miner required practicality, portability, and longevity. Argiro eventually left the mines to open his own bakery, but he took his experiences with him. In 1927, he opened the Country Club Bakery in Fairmont, West Virginia, and shortly after created what would become his legacy, the pepperoni roll.

What started as a snack to bring simplicity to the lives of coal miners has gone on to earn Fairmont the unofficial title of “Pepperoni Roll Capital of the World.” The “Country Club Bakery” is still open and pumping out more than 900,000 rolls a year.

“It’s just such a simple food, and it’s so good and easy to grab,” says Mathias Hickman, who, with he and his business partner Eric Martin, opened Pep Rolls in Charleston, South Carolina, determined to fill the pepperoni roll void in the Lowcountry.

Pepperoni rolls on the road. It seems like this portable food has always stayed close to its roots, no matter where it is consumed.