By Rachel Bosworth
It’s a relatively quiet Monday morning in Greenport, having just wrapped up another busy and successful Maritime Festival. Andy Harbin is behind the bar setting up for the day, filling ice and aligning stools, readying the place for lunch service and Monday Night Football. None of this is new to him – he’s been working in North Fork restaurants and bars since he was a teenager. The only difference now is this place is called Andy’s, and thanks to the help of friends, family and the community, it’s his own.
Harbin opened his namesake restaurant and bar earlier this summer on Front Street in the former Rhumb Line with co-owner Doug Roberts and their wives, Sharon and Mary respectively. Some may say it’s fate for Harbin, as this is the place where he had met his wife while both were working there 21 years ago. When the rent sign went up, Harbin made the call thanks to the encouragement of his wife, Roberts, and his friend Lynn Menaker. If you ask how he brought his own business to life, he’ll tell you it wasn’t him.
A long gone Italian restaurant called Villa D’Oro, which once inhabited the space of A Mano in Mattituck, is where Harbin got his start working in the kitchen. He did what was needed, everything from washing dishes to salad prep. “It’s where I discovered that I loved Italian food,” Harbin says. “Because of my mother being very Irish, we didn’t have things like broccolini and scallopini, and all those words.”
Seeing the potential to make more money being in the front of the house, Harbin went to the Old Mill Inn in Mattituck, telling the owner he had bussed tables. In truth, he had never bussed tables, nor had he waited on tables, but that’s what he did there. “They must have been desperate,” Harbin jokes.
Sharing the restaurant had a quirky way of doing things, servers at the Old Mill Inn made their own drinks during weekday lunch hours. This is where Harbin began reading Mr. Boston, an old-school bartender’s guide to mixing drinks that has been around since 1935. He made his first drink, learned how to bartend, and from there, began exploring other bartending opportunities. After reading an advertisement for bartenders needed at the Cinnamon Tree in Greenport, which is now the home of American Beech, he was hired by May Watson for two weekday shifts as a bartender.
One of Harbin’s mentors, Robby Costantini, was a bartender during the summer. He taught Harbin things like setting up the bar the right way, leaving it the right way, and, perhaps most importantly, showing up on time. “Robby was a big help because I never bartended before,” Harbin says. “Then on Fourth of July weekend, it was extremely busy, and May Watson was there all day. I must have done okay, because a week or two after that, a bartender there named Jerome moved to Florida for a girl. He worked Friday and Saturday nights, so I got a chance to work those shifts.”
This is how things worked out for Harbin throughout his career in the service industry. He got to know different people in different places, who taught him different things and helped him get to the next spot. Harbin often worked at a few places at once, most recently Sophie’s Rest in Southold, Legend’s in New Suffolk and The Frisky Oyster in Greenport, before opening Andy’s, earning him a reputation as one of the North Fork’s favorite bartenders. He’s a humble guy that doesn’t like to talk about himself, but he’ll be the first to give credit where due.
“Doug and Mary, and certainly my wife, and the people in this community who have done more for this place than I have,” Harbin says, joking that if the people didn’t like the restaurant, they would avoid him out of pity. “The things people have said they like the most have come from my wife’s ideas. I’m not an idea person.”
Alexa Suess of Points East Design developed the branding concept for Andy’s, choosing a bold shade of orange that took Harbin some getting used to. His sister Sherri Melchione helped decorate along with his wife, and Harbin says 17 different people helped paint the ceiling. Chef Robby Beaver, who Harbin says “has the best palate of anyone I know,” of The Frisky Oyster helped with the liquor license attorney, Charlie Manwaring and Thomas Grattan, Jr. from Sophie’s Rest offered their support, Dennis and Diane Harkoff at Legend’s gave the restaurant some of its signature décor, while Bobby Heaney from the former Skipper’s restaurant provided glassware and plates. Lynn Menaker, a longtime friend of Harbin’s, also offered financial support in getting the restaurant up and running.
“This place is more of a compilation of the last three places that I worked,” Harbin explains. “There’s a real competition for food business in this town, and a real flair to what’s going on with food, not just in this town, but with millennials everywhere, and I needed a chef to produce that.”
Larry Evans was the guy. Harbin says having a chef like Evans is inspired by The Frisky Oyster, the sports aspect comes from Legend’s, and the comfortableness and localness is a nod to Sophie’s Rest. “All three very successful places, that’s the common denominator,” says Harbin. “[Andy’s] couldn’t have been done without a large community of help. That’s why Doug and I want to give back to the community.” The restaurant donates a portion of net proceeds from what they call Porters Friday to the Gridiron Parents and the Greenport Athletic Booster Clubs.
Humble and aware of both his strengths and weaknesses, Harbin is no stranger to some of the more difficult choices he has to make as both a bartender and an owner. He’s cut people off, been yelled at and threatened, and subsequently apologized to and thanked, many times throughout his career. He likes people, and wants people to like him, but says there is a line to be drawn in this business.
“I want to please people, my wife says to a fault, maybe she’s right — she’s usually right about most things,” he says. “I try to be a good guy, I want people to like me. But my obligation as a bartender is to think about the other customers, and as an owner, to think about the staff.”
Harbin has worked at many different places and has a few decades of experience under his belt. “I was asked many times in many places if I was an owner,” he says. “If you’re treating a place like the owner, you’re already doing a lot of things you have to do when you become an owner.” Thanks to his community and the overwhelming positive response from customers, Harbin now is embracing ownership at a place where everyone knows his name.