Our History

Origins of Ernie’s

Before Finn’s, there was Ernie’s

Ernie’s wasn’t always the Ernie’s that comes to mind today. Ernie and Rita Sherman opened Ernie’s Grill in the late ‘50’s in one of the old buildings on the dock in Old Harbor next to Earl Smith’s fish market. Ernie took over for Earl at the fish market at the same time.

It didn’t become Ernie’s Old Harbour Restaurant until 1961, when Ernie and Rita purchased the Post Office building on Water Street and converted the space into their home and a restaurant. For the following 13 years, Ernie and Rita opened for breakfast, lunch and dinner sometimes year-round, always from May to October.  They served home cooked meals and many of the same menu items that Ernie’s and Finn’s are still famous for.

Ernie was in the kitchen by 4 a.m. every day making donuts and pies, simmering pot roasts and corned beefs and getting ready for the day. Rita was behind the counter every morning flipping eggs with amazing dexterity.

The Second Generation

A True Family Affair

Over the years two of their children, Fred and Rosemary Howarth (Millea) were recruited to help out. Rosemary became as proficient as her mom on the main grill behind the counter. Fred stayed in the background manning the fryolators and grill in the back kitchen. It was truly a family affair with other children and grandchildren arriving every summer to help out.When Fred married in 1971, Ernie turned over an area in the lower level to Fred and his wife, Debbie, so that they could open a fish market. This they did in 1972. Debbie operated the fish market while Fred went lobstering, something he had done since he was a boy.

Changes through the recent years

Continuous Quality & Service

There have been additions of outdoor decks and indoor dining space and additions to the upstairs and downstairs kitchens. Fred and Debbie’s children, Jason and Jessy, helped out in their growing up years doing a little bit of anything and everything. Jason became a manager for a few years and then both children went on to pursue other interests. Hundreds of island and summer kids joined the staff, often returning year after year as they passed through grade school and college, giving up their slots for the next generation as they moved on in the world. The menus have been updated.

Ernie’s has been leased or not leased and has been operated by Ernie’s grandson, Fred Betts. Jason returned to become a manager and took on the responsibility of equipment maintenance, ordering and receiving, and scheduling and overseeing fish market and kitchen staff. Jessy returned as well to help out as an additional manager to relieve some of the load.

No matter what the changes, the core concepts have remained the same. Both Ernie’s and Finn’s have been dedicated to providing their customers the best fare possible using the same time-proven recipes with the same quality ingredients, offering the same quality of service and maintaining the same standards of cleanliness that were first initiated by Ernie and Rita in the 50’s.

What does 2021 Bring?

New Ownership, Same Dedication

Now, after 40 years at the helm, the Howarths have stepped back and passed the baton. We wish John Franchi and his crew all the best as they begin to make Finn’s their own.

locally caught lobster

Restaurant & Market Open Every Day!

Enjoy our relaxed atmosphere at the heart of Block Island!

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