Hanaway family sells Johnny’s, now to become ‘Burrillville diner’

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The Hanaway family

BURRILLVILLE – At a little diner on Victory Highway, big changes are once again underway.

Six years after purchasing the former Monty’s Victory Diner, John and Rhonda Hanaway will sell the business this week.

On Tuesday, April 30, they’ll pass the torch on the nearly century-old business to a new investor, hanging up their aprons to begin their next chapter.

“It’s not a choice we make lightly, as we’re deeply grateful for the friendships and support we’ve received during this time,” the business noted in an announcement on Tuesday, April 23.

The Hanaways, who relocated to Burrillville from New Hampshire, purchased the business in 2018, in part, as a venue to sell and expand John’s smoked meats business. Hobbyists who had opened a popular roadside stand, John with wife Rhonda added items such as brisket and cornbread to the classic diner menu, while maintaining the small-town atmosphere that had made the Nasonville restaurant a regular stop for generations of hungry customers.

“The diner has become a second family to us, with our children starting their first jobs there, much like the iconic, ‘Cheers restaurant,’ where everyone knows your name,” the Hanaways noted. “Our staff’s intimate knowledge of our patrons is a rare gem that sets us apart.”

Under the Hanaways’ leadership, the small diner expanded over the past six years to include a patio with outdoor seating, a tiki bar and live music on Friday nights through the warmer months, weather permitting, to accompany their freshly-smoked creations. In 2020, Johnny’s was named “#1 BBQ in Rhode Island” by Food & Wine Magazine.

But John underwent surgery following a back injury last year, and the couple notes that the physical demands of restaurant work haven’t helped the healing process.

An photo taken by NRI NOW in 2018 documents the Hanaways takeover of the business six years ago.

“Our focus now is on Johnny’s recovery,” they said. “He needs time to heal, though we can’t promise he won’t fire up his smoker in the backyard once he’s feeling better. Rest assured, you’ll smell it in the air.”

“The daily grind of being on his feet and lifting has really set him back and he just can’t do it anymore,” Rhonda told NRI NOW.

On Friday, April 26, the business plans to hold a customer appreciation night, with specials and half price off on Johnny’s Diner now classic swag.

The new owner will officially take the reigns next week and anticipates no pause in business, with plans to open Wednesday morning as ‘Burrillville Diner.’ While Rhonda did not want to speak too much on her successor’s behalf, she said she believes the owner plans to keep things mostly the same, and may expand the diner’s hours.

“We encourage you to give them a chance,” she said.

It will mark a new chapter for a restaurant that’s kept locals fed under various names since the 1930s.

“The diner will forever hold a special place in our hearts and in our community,” Johnny’s noted. “Our incredible staff, whom we consider family, will be dearly missed, but we’re not going far.”

“Thank you for making our time at the diner the most cherished experience of our lives. We love you all.”

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