Column: Andy Harbin opens a Greenport restaurant where everyone knows his name

07/21/2017 6:00 AM |

Many have heard the story about the bartender who busts his hump slinging drinks across a bar every day and night to save enough coin to fulfill the longtime dream of one day owning his own place.

From a distance, one might think there’s a similar story behind Andy’s, the popular new bar and restaurant on Front Street in Greenport.

But to hear co-owners Andy Harbin and Doug Roberts tell it, that’s not the case at all.

“It was never my dream,” Mr. Harbin, perhaps the most popular bartender in all of Southold Town, said.

“How long did I dream of being in the restaurant business?” Mr. Roberts asked. “I didn’t.”

The origin story behind Andy’s isn’t actually any one person’s fantasy. Instead it’s a tale of family, community, friendship and opportunity. The result so far for many of the patrons who’ve entered the establishment — formerly the home of Rhumb Line — is a belly full of good food.

“We really just wanted to open a place in Greenport where a family with young children can sit down and enjoy a good meal together,” Mr. Roberts said over lunch at the bar Monday, his business partner standing a few feet away among the highball glasses and beer taps, where you’ve most often seen him.

The pair actually met in a similar spot, with Andy — let’s ditch the Mr. Harbin thing — manning the bar at nearby Front Street Station and Mr. Roberts a patron. One day, Mr. Roberts said to his future business partner, “If you ever think about opening your own place, I’d be interested in partnering with you.”

It was an offhand comment made more than three years ago, with no real plan behind it — the kind of statement people often make after having a drink or two.

The Roberts and Harbin families inside Andy’s during construction. (Credit: Krysten Massa)

Andy has worked the North Fork bar and restaurant scene since his days at Mattituck High School. His first gig behind the bar, he once told one of our reporters, was when a bartender didn’t show up to work at the Old Mill Inn, where he was waiting tables.

RELATED: BEHIND THE BAR WITH ANDY HARBIN, A NORTH FORK LEGEND

He’s perhaps best known as one of the bartenders at Sophie’s in Southold, but he also forged many relationships at other local establishments like Legends in New Suffolk and The Frisky Oyster in Greenport.

It was one day last year, while walking to a shift at the latter, that Andy noticed a “for rent” sign inside the former Rhumb Line. A couple of days passed and a customer at the bar brought up the vacancy across the street again.

After checking out the terms with the building’s landlord, he floated the idea to Mr. Roberts.

“At first I was like, ‘What, is he kidding? I don’t really want to own a restaurant,’ ” Mr. Roberts, an education consultant and village trustee, recalled. “Then I looked at the terms and said this is actually a pretty good opportunity.”

Both men saw an opportunity to create a type of eatery they felt didn’t necessarily exist within the village: a place where families with kids of all ages can meet, with a sports bar atmosphere and a menu that appealed to both locals and tourists. Several places fulfill some of these needs for customers, but to have it all in one location is a bit of a niche, the men believe. The waiting area features games kids can play with and bring to the table to hold their attention throughout a meal without staring at a screen.

To bring the concept together, the men employed the wisdom of their wives, Sharon Harbin and Mary Roberts, and other family members and hired Greenport resident Alexa Suess as a branding strategist.

Pulled pork potato skin shooters at Andy’s. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

“She’s a genius,” Andy said of the young artist, who designed the menus and was the brains behind much of the restaurant’s atmosphere. He’s also quick to point out the creativity of chef Larry Evans of Philadelphia, who most recently worked as sous chef at Industry Standard.

As expected, Andy’s has been popular with locals in its first month of business and it should be a go-to spot to watch football in the fall and early winter. Attracting tourists is the hurdle that will mark true success for the business, the men believe.

What they’re most proud of is how much their families and the surrounding business community has embraced Andy’s, a name that was actually pushed by others who knew how well-liked Andy is.

“My wife’s support has been amazing,” Andy said. “She was up there painting the ceiling while I was dealing with all these other things that come with opening a business.”

Mr. Roberts, whose wife does the books, said he’s not afraid to admit that Andy’s daughter Lili came up with his favorite menu item, mozzarella stick grilled cheese, which is on the children’s menu.

Andy was visibly moved speaking of the support he received from Robby Beaver at The Frisky Oyster and Dennis and Diane Harkoff of Legends, who donated a display case that’s among the first things you see when walking through the front entrance. Bobby Heaney, owner of the former Skipper’s, donated the glassware.

“Without all these people, we couldn’t have done it,” Andy said.

As we ate Monday — the New England clam chowder, for now a soup of the day, is among the best around — a local businessman sat at the other end of the bar. As he chatted with a friend, he noticed out of the corner of his eye that his own son had just entered the restaurant.

Two generations of one family were checking out the new place at the same time. Family, exactly what these two unlikely restaurant owners had in mind.

Top photo caption: The entrance to Andy’s in Greenport. (Credit: Grant Parpan)

The author is the content director for Times Review Partners, a division of Times Review Media Group. He covers lifestyle and business news for the company.

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