By Erin Place
PARIS—When Mike Smith rode his bike down the hill on Highland Avenue to the Handy Store on East Main Street in South Paris to buy penny candy as a kid, he had no idea that roughly four decades later he would purchase the place with his business partner, David Haskell.
Smith, who now resides in Norway, and Haskell, of West Paris, closed the dual convenience store and eatery on Tuesday to conduct inventory and will reopen it bright and early Friday at 6 a.m. under the new name, Doughboys Variety. They bought the business from longtime owners Zee and Hann Khan, who wanted to retire and successfully ran it for 27 years.
“Obviously it’s a plus that it’s been around for so long,” Haskell says.
And that’s one of the reasons the duo decided to buy the Handy Store. Smith points to the longevity of the privately owned convenience store, which is virtually unheard of in today’s business climate, adding that they weren’t interested in building a business from the ground up.
“The fact that it’s been here that long speaks volumes for not just their ability to keep it going but the people that are coming here,” Smith says. “Obviously there was a draw built into the community for the establishment, which again was a draw for us.”
He says that Hann Khan had joked with him more than 10 years ago about buying the business, an idea Smith shrugged off at the time.
“I guess this time when he wanted me to buy it, I actually took it seriously,” Smith says, laughing. “I think it was calling me.”
Originally, the pair didn’t have their eyes on the Handy Store. Smith has been the manager of Rent-A-Center for 10 years and Haskell worked for him. They knew they wanted to get into business together but they weren’t sure in what area. Smith has been restaurant manager on top of working as a business manager and Haskell previously owned his own business.
“At 52, I reached the conclusion I wanted to work for myself not for someone else,” Smith says.
Then Smith stumbled upon the sale listing for the Handy Store online. He called up Haskell and the two agreed it was a matter of making the numbers work. Broker Brenda Sessions assisted with that, making for a smooth transition in ownership, they say.
While there will be some changes at Doughboys Variety, but they don’t plan on reinventing the wheel.
“We are going to change the name but not change the way the food’s made,” Haskell says.
Smith said that he and Haskell do not plan on messing up the good things that are going on at the Handy Store. Their plan is to add some offerings at Doughboys Variety, and have no plans to commercialize the business or jump the prices.
“We want to bring a new spin to what they’ve already established,” Smith says.
They both plan on doing the cooking for the business and the first thing they’re adding is a full coffee bar and breakfast, which isn’t served now. They’ll also offer new lunch and dinner specials, with the latter being more than a sandwich, Smith says. He calls the food “homestyle cooking” in a take-out format, which will now include freshly baked products. There’s also a secret menu item—but the duo didn’t want to spoil the surprise and will reveal it on opening day.
Additions to the menu aren’t the only thing they have their sights on. There’s a space at the back of the parking lot that overlooks the Little Androscoggin River that’s underdeveloped. Smith says people now park at the back of the lot and eat in their cars, but the business partners will get picnic tables so patrons can better enjoy the area.
Another thing they don’t plan on changing is the three part-time employees who worked for the Khans and Smith says they expect to see that number increase.
“Hopefully we’ll grow the business so we have to keep hiring them,” Haskell adds. “We want to revive the place more than anything.”
And for the name Doughboys Variety?
“If you ask anyone in town to name one thing about the Handy Store—it’s the pizza,” Haskell says.
But there was an even more personal angle to the name. When Haskell and Smith did a walk through with the Khans, they were joking about doughboys with broker Sessions and Smith’s email address happened to have the name doughboy in it.
“I said, ‘You know what? We should name this place Doughboys Variety,’” Haskell recalls.
“I thought he was joking,” Smith says, but then realized the name did make sense.
And it wasn’t a decision they made lightly, as it took them three weeks to decide to change the name of the business.
“It wasn’t necessarily that we wanted to change the name. We wanted a fresh start,” Haskell says.
“It’s our thing,” Smith agrees.
Smith and Haskell wanted to thanked the Khans for the opportunity to take over their business. Smith also thanked his parents and his girlfriend Tasha Spokas and Haskell thanked his wife, AnneMarie, saying without their support, they wouldn’t have been able to successfully go into this new business venture.
Doughboys Variety will keep the same hours as the Handy Store, which are 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.