Village Pantry, a Feasterville deli, has made it to the final four of Philly Magazine and Dietz and Watson’s ‘Real Philly Deli Best Sandwich 2017 Competition’.

“It’s great to be recognized but it’s the whole community,” Anthony Merlino, owner of Village Pantry explained. “It just proves that a community stands behind their businesses.”

The Real Philly Deli Best Sandwich 2017 Competition began in May with 10 delis hand selected by Dietz and Watson. Now there are four sandwiches left, two weeks of voting (June 19 to July 2), and the chance of a lifetime for one town’s local shop.

The winner will attend a gala reception hosted by Philly Magazine, appear on a billboard outside of Lincoln Financial Field, and be on all Dietz and Watson advertisements for one year.

“Before I officially entered the competition someone from Dietz and Watson said to me (Merlino), ‘if you win people will come a half an hour or 45 minutes just to try that sandwich’.”

The passion for him and his Feasterville establishment began 17 years ago when he took over for Tom Wiser, who opened Village Pantry in 1972.

Merlino worked for Dietz and Watson a few years before buying the store, which came with a couple loyal employees.

“He’s a decent boss and a good person. We all get along here,” Donna Conway described. “It’s just a great environment.”

Conway has worked at the store located off Bridgetown Pike for “roughly 25 years.”

“She is like the mama bear and I guess that makes me the papa bear,” Jim Jackson laughed. He has worked at Village Pantry for 17-years and was more than an hour early to his shift that day.

“It’s a nice little family business. We try to entertain and satisfy the customer.”

The kind spirit among the employees carries to the customers.

“I’ve been coming here for 5 years,” Darryl Jackson said as he picked up his order. “They are good people and the product is great.”

Village Pantry has seven different specialty hoagies, but only one has gained this much fame – The Messina.

“Messina, Italy is where my family is from,” Merlino gave a reason. “And it’s the most popular.”

Philly Mag created events throughout the contest in order to spread the word and taste of the hoagies competing.Village Pantry along with one of the other four finalists will be at Spruce Street Harbor Park on Saturday, June 24th from 11:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m.

Merlino recalled a similar event when the contest first began.

“I brought 20 hoagies, while the other delis only brought a few. I asked someone from Philly Mag if I did something wrong. Then in about 36 minutes, they were gone.”

The Messina, a spin on the classic Italian hoagie, was a recipe Merlino came up with one day.

“This may sound odd,” Conway revealed, “but Anthony and I would split one for breakfast before the shop would open at 9 a.m.”

“It’s a good sandwich, made with pride.” Jackson chimed in, “and I’m an Irish man!”

Village Pantry has a wide selection of deli meats and cheeses, fresh rolls, Messina hoagies and more available throughout the week.

“It’s a great thing and we’ll see what happens,” Merlino concluded. “It makes me feel like everything I worked for is worth it.”