BURRILLVILLE – There are few things more “small town,” than a classic diner where the waitresses know their customers’ names – and food orders – before they even walk through the door.
At Monty’s Victory Diner, many customers sit in same seat every time they visit, and staff takes it to the next level of hometown friendly, catering to their guests’ dietary needs and even keeping familiar souvenirs on the walls.
It’s a formula that’s kept the small restaurant on Victory Highway in Harrisville busy for the past few decades, and one that the new owner John Hanaway says he has no intention of changing.
Hanaway and his wife Rhonda recently purchase the business, a small restaurant that first opened in the 1930s. The couple plans to add barbecue to the popular diner’s breakfast and lunch menu, which also includes the special “Fresh Fish Friday” nights.
A Smithfield native, Hanaway’s love affair with smoked meats began some 15 years ago when his family was living in New Hampshire, where he became enamored with the culinary style after visiting roadside stands.
“That’s what intrigued him,” said Rhonda. “He used to stop and talk to the owners all the time.”
Hanaway became a hobbyist, buying a small smoker and cooking up meats for the family’s backyard parties.
“I always had friends and family saying ‘you should open a restaurant,'” said Hanaway. “I thought we might want to take it to the next level.”
That next level began with a trip to Georgia, where Hanaway trained in the art of barbecue at a retreat run by celebrity chef Myron Mixon, a four-time barbecue World Champion known for his appearances as a judge on the Destination America reality television show.
The couple moved to Mapleville several years ago with their two sons and since then, Hanaway’s taken some classes at Johnson & Wales, while maintaining a full time job as a mortgage banker. He also picked up part time work as a cook at Blackies Bull Dog Tavern in Smithfield.
About a year and a half ago Hanaway began serving his barbecue creations at Sticks Tavern in Chepachet on the weekends. The business took off, and Hanaway started to build a following, selling out his stock nearly every weekend, as well as offering catering.
Wife Rhonda, who grew up in Johnston, has helped out with the business on the weekends, while working as a career adviser at a local high school.
Recently, with Sticks Tavern closing, the couple decided it was time to launch on their own. Monty’s, which wasn’t actually for sale at the time, seemed like the perfect opportunity.
“I’ve always wanted to own a diner,” Hanaway said.
The couple officially took over on Friday, July 20. And starting on Saturday, Aug. 11, they’ll officially reopen Johnny’s BBQ in the small space. On Saturday nights through September, the Hanaways will extend Victory’s hours until 8 p.m., serving items from his previous menu. Everything else, he says, will stay the same.
The hometown people, he notes, were a big part of the establishment’s appeal. From cooks Cori Burill and Michelle Provencal who have worked at the diner for roughly 30 years combined, to waitstaff including Amy Thibideau and Nancy Ural who have another 25 cumulative years at the business, the diner, he points out, essentially runs itself.
“This is an established business,” Hanaway said. “These guys have learned to be really independent. We just want to enhance it with barbecue. Nothing is changing.”
The structure at 2731 Victory Highway was built in 1930 and has had a number of owners including, mostly recently, Marcel Founteneau.
Monty’s staff will remain, working with the Hanaway family including the couple’s two sons, now a senior at Burrillville High School and 20-year-old a college student.
Johnny’s well-loved BBQ – including items like his popular pulled chicken egg rolls, jalapeno cornbread, and brisket maca-dilla – will be served every Saturday night, with special barbecue “teasers” served throughout the week.
The restaurant also offers beer and wine, and Hanaway plans to add local, craft brews to the menu.
Johnny’s Victory Diner is now open from 5 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and Friday from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. On Saturdays, when the diner used to close at 2, the Hanaways will stay open until 8 p.m., with a kickoff event to be held this weekend from 2 to 8 p.m.