Investors, hedge-fund managers and stock analysts alike all seem to be on a never-ending search to cash in on “The Next Big Thing” in the food and restaurant world. Whether it is the next cupcake, sustainable menu or restaurant concept, the hype gets especially loud at this time of year because of the National Restaurant Association’s annual show convening in Chicago.
Two local businesses quietly may have found it.
Ocean State Sandwich Co. at 1345 Hartford Ave. in Johnston opened last year as an upscale sandwich shop and catering business. Two generations of a Rhode Island restaurant family are at the helm and in the kitchen.
Alan Handwerger opened The Left Bank on South Water Street back in 1975 and it is still fondly remembered by the city’s foodies as a restaurant and creperie. He met his wife, Lorrie, there. As he put it, “That was 38 years and four kids ago, so I’d have to say that Left Bank was a huge success for me in ways that go far beyond a well-mixed crepe batter.”
The Handwergers later owned and operated restaurants in Rhode Island, Florida and Vermont. One of those four offspring, Eric, followed in the family business. “There were no executive positions available for a 12-year-old,” noted Eric, “so they had me washing dishes, bussing tables, making salads – all that. I guess it gets into your blood because no matter what else I’ve tried my hand at since college, I keep coming back to food service.” He is well-known in Rhode Island restaurant circles from his time as manager at Ten Prime Steak & Sushi and Joe’s American Bar and Grill, as well as Iron Works Tavern in Warwick.
After the elder Handwerger sold his last restaurant, he promised his wife he was out of the business. But as his son wisely observed, the business often does not get out of the restaurateur. So the family compromised. Restaurant, yes, but no more nights. Said Eric, “We all love food; and we all love to cook. But I have a wife and two young daughters whom I’d like to get to know; and my folks have certainly paid their dues with regard to late-night hours.”