In the Kitchen: Chef Bill Andrews’ Vision Behind Mainstay Leon’s Cafe & Catering

From Providence to Barrington, a chef’s legacy of scratch-made sandwiches and homestyle catering


Few restaurants have the gravitas of Leon’s Cafe & Catering in Barrington. Chef/owner Bill Andrews grew up in the business, son of a cook at a New York System Diner in Johnston the 1970s, and a mother who Andrews describes as “an old-school Italian.” After learning the ins and outs of boots-on-the-ground-cooking from his father’s side, Andrews left the steamed hot dog buns and celery salt behind for a formal education in the culinary arts at Rhode Island School of Design.

Not long after, Andrews opened a restaurant of his own on Federal Hill, a popular Mediterranean bistro with an inescapable Italian-American influence called Leon’s On The West Side, named for Andrews’ brother-in-law Leon, who had passed away. Andrews charmed as owner and head chef of the eatery. “I was there until 2001. It had become extremely popular. We had an 85-seat restaurant and we were doing 250 covers [plates] for dinner and 450 covers for brunch on Sunday.”

After 21 years of ownership, Andrews transitioned to the industry side of the business, becoming the food service director at Eastside Marketplace. Noticing a void in the catering market in Barrington, he honed in on a small property tucked off of busy County Road where he could service both private clients and the public. “This place was an Italian-style deli with a deli case and all that. It only had about 18 seats,” explains Andrews. So he got to work, converting the deli case into a bar, building out a galley kitchen using every inch he could, and securing a beer and wine license as well as a caterer’s Class B license.

Leon’s Cafe & Catering opened in late 2014 with seating for 34 and menus devoted to breakfast, brunch, and made-to-order sandwiches. Andrews continues to make a variety of breads the only way he knows how – from scratch. “We also make our own Canadian bacon in house, and I make my own pastrami. We cook the corned beef brisket in house – we don’t buy the deli meats,” Andrews explains. “The atmosphere that I have is very casual. I’m not much of a fine dining dude with tablecloths and all that, but I want the food to be fine dining, at that level.”

That can mean anything from crispy French toast featuring a house-made baguette dipped in vanilla custard batter and coated in Frosted Flakes to Andrews’ Mama Josie’s house-made meatball sub, which uses his mother’s “old school” recipe of ground beef, a grated cheese blend, eggs, softened bread, and “the right spices,” all simmered in marinara sauce and sprinkled with Pecorino cheese before being tucked into a baguette. The aforementioned pastrami is made with a brined brisket, spice-rubbed and slow-smoked for 12 hours and steamed for two hours, then sliced and served with Swiss cheese on toasted seeded rye, and slathered with coarse mustard.

Early in the pandemic, when food service businesses were shut down, Andrews shifted to a prepared food menu with delivery service and online ordering. The period was a substantial financial loss. “This month, we reached our goal for our sales, so we’re back to where we were pre-pandemic, but it took three years to get there,” explains Andrews.

Today, the catering arm of Leon’s is a substantial part of the business model. “I find it easy to work in someone’s home, even if they’re doing something between 50 and 100 people,” he says. Leon’s also caters at nearby Temple Habonim from time to time, putting expertise learned at Eastside Marketplace on traditional Jewish foods and meals into practice.

Andrews is also passionate about mentoring youth. “I think it’s vitally important in the industry that young people get some form of a vocation outside of school, because there’s nothing that can prepare you better than getting some skill sets in the real world,” he says. Andrews explains that while many parents want their children to go to college, it’s not the only path to success. “Some kids don’t fit into that mold and that’s where restaurants and small businesses come in very, very handy.”

While he lives in Providence with his family, Andrews has found a deep sense of community in Barrington. He says of local residents and neighbors, “I made a decision that I was going to make friends here, and get to know them as people, not just customers.”


Leon’s Cafe and Catering

230 Waseca Avenue, Barrington

401-247-1660 •



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