Earl Handy’s Journey in Local Business

The Handy’s Lunch owner is finding new ways to serve his community.


Earl Handy serves up sandwiches at Handy’s Lunch, a local diner (Credit: Burlington Free Press).

There are not many family owned businesses that have been around for 75 years,” Earl Handy said. “So, it really makes me feel proud of what I’m doing and keeping the legacy that my grandparents started alive.

Earl Handy, the owner of Handy’s Lunch, pivoted from an early interest in communications to take over the mantle of his family’s restaurant business, which has always been a part of his life. “I got to raise my kids in Vermont,” he said. “Got to do what my dad and my grandfather did for a living which is pretty neat.”

For Handy, 46, the lasting legacy of his family’s local business is a big part of what has made it such an iconic locale for the Burlington area. The business has evolved over the years, taking the form of a grocery store, an ice business, and later transitioning into the restaurant it is known as today. 

Earl has taken note of some of the lessons learned along the way throughout his family’s different business ventures. He says the key to being successful over such a long period of time is “learning how to pivot, how to make adjustments, and how to keep the business going with the changing of the times.” 

Even before the pandemic, Earl dealt with changes in local infrastructure, taxes, health care costs, and other day-to-day issues. That ability to adapt has also helped Earl deal with the coronavirus. “I learned to adjust my business to what was actually going on,” he explained. “I never let the pandemic control me.”

Once he became aware of pandemic restrictions and changing circumstances, Earl made some adjustments to his usual business routine which helped the restaurant meet the new standards. He created a space outside for quick deliveries and added digital payment formats to account for social distancing measures. He also changed the way he managed supplies and products to keep costs down. These efforts paid off, and he ultimately helped the restaurant adapt to the unique demands created by the pandemic.

 “A lot of my motivation is to keep this business going,” he revealed. “Favorite part of the job is my customers; knowing them by first name, getting to know them, becoming friends with them.” This motivation has helped grow the legacy of his business and has benefited from the positive community impact his work presents.

 “I love the impact that the business has had on the community for all these years,” he mused. “I wouldn’t be here after 70 years if it wasn’t for the community.” That commitment to customer service is also part of what has made Handy’s Lunch a beloved local landmark.

This connection has also spurred him to work with multiple charity initiatives to give back to those in need. “This year we have been blessed with people making donations to the business for us to provide meals for the front lines,” he explained. Each year he tries to find new ways to give back to the community. Local patrons have also contributed, pitching in to help fund these charity efforts. 

Since May 2020, Earl and his business have helped to provide over 1,800 meals to the local hospital, as well as the Boys and Girls Club and the King Street Youth Center. These organizations help provide safe and educational spaces for local youth, including refugees and immigrants.

Another part of his motivation comes not just from his community but also from his past experiences. Earl’s twins spent 100 days in the neonatal intensive care unit, a hospital unit that specializes in treating health conditions in premature and otherwise sick newborns. 

The experience led Earl and his wife to join the board at the Red Cross. “Growing up in this community has always been my motivation to give back,” he said. “It’s just the right thing to do.” They also fundraised for the March of Dimes, an organization fighting for the health of premature infants and their families. 

Earl’s efforts as a business owner and community figure have not gone overlooked. Their business has been recognized by Food Network, People Magazine, and was voted the best hotdog in the state of Vermont. They have won numerous awards and have been recognized on a national level for their work.

Despite the success of the family business, Earl recognizes his kids may have talents elsewhere, and is fully supportive of their endeavors. “My son wants to be an architect or some type of engineer, and my daughter wants to be a veterinarian,” he explained. “She wants to turn this building into her vet clinic which I look forward to seeing.” Earl also likes to bring his kids to the restaurant quite often, where they enjoy sharing meals.

As for his future, Earl says he plans to retire eventually but that he is happy with the way things are going currently. “I’m pretty content with that recognition so I’m not gonna worry about the future right now,” he remarked. “I’m gonna worry about every day and every day is a good day when your doors are open and you can serve customers.”

With no signs of slowing down, Earl continues to evolve his business to changing conditions and finds ways to make a positive impact on the community that has known him for years.