2018-05-31 / Around Town

Conversation with Hank Lawler

Coffee Shop Serves Daily Kindness
By James Merolla

Hank Lawler salutes his customers. Hank Lawler salutes his customers. Every morning, for more than 30 years, Hank Lawler has left his apartment and driven to the Dunkin’ Donuts on Broadway before 6 a.m. to help set up for another busy day of serving coffee, donuts, muffins, croissants and joy.

Lawler, 54, just celebrated his 30th anniversary with the company. For three decades, the Vidalia, Georgia native’s customers have come from all over the country and even Europe to see him. Several send him giant jigsaw puzzles through the mail to fulfill his most passionate hobby. One sent six in a single mailing.

Lawler has become as much of a fixture at Broadway’s Dunkin’ Donuts as the iced coffee spigot. So much, in fact, that a Facebook page entitled, “Every Dunkin’ Donuts Should Have a Hank,” has attracted about 1,400 followers.

Hank indulges his passion for jigsaw puzzles.You can find him on Facebook. Hank indulges his passion for jigsaw puzzles.You can find him on Facebook. How did a Vidalia, Georgia native come to Newport? My grandfather started here in the Navy. My mom was born here, in Middletown. I came here in 1965. I did go to Sheffield School for just one year in 1970, then we moved back to Georgia, then back here in 1988, and [I’ve been] here ever since.

Tell me about the customers who come here just to see you. I meet all kinds of different people from Europe, Connecticut, New York. They tell me they come to see me. That makes me feel good. For my customer from Germany, I learned to say ‘Good morning’ in German, [which is] ‘Guten morgen.’ They got a big kick out of that. I try to be like everybody else, not… different. I’m just doing my job.

Has the job changed since 1988? I started here April 27, 1988. I still set up the same way. Coffee, iced coffee, measuring, making sure it [all] works. We used to be open 24 hours a day. So, that’s changed.

Have you have always been called Hank? Yeah, not Henry. I preferred Hank all my life. When my mom was pregnant with me, my dad knew somehow that I was going to be a boy, even though I had twin sisters. My father said, ‘He’s going to be a Hank!’

Tell me about doing puzzles. It’s one of my favorite hobbies. I have done them up to 3,000 pieces. People send me jigsaw puzzles. I was actually in a jigsaw puzzle once, a White Mountain puzzle. A photographer took a picture of me. He set it up. And there I am. They knew I worked at Dunkin’ Donuts, being a kind of icon here for so long.

I have been told you are really good at remembering dates. Are you? I have known a lot of people over the years. Some have departed. I know everybody’s birthdays. It’s just a special gift I have for my favorites. One woman has 10 children, and I know all their birthdays by heart. I also remember sports dates and when celebrities were killed or died, like Elvis, Sharon Tate, she was my Marilyn Monroe, Princess Diana.

What’s your favorite doughnut? Vanilla frosting.

Will you retire from here? I am going to keep working until something happens. I’m going to do what I like, and I love making the coffee.

"Every Dunkin' Donuts Needs a Hank."

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