What was once a speakeasy during the times of Prohibition has become one of the most popular restaurants in the state over the years.
Twin Oaks has reached its 80th year in business, and plans are in place to celebrate this milestone. On Jan. 21, the public is invited to a 4 p.m. ribbon cutting ceremony with Mayor Allan Fung, to be followed by a cocktail celebration at the restaurant located at 100 Sabra St. in Cranston.
Twin Oaks has been operating as a family-owned business for decades. It had its start as a speakeasy in 1928 during the Prohibition era and made the transition from a small eatery with 60 seats to the current operation with 650 seats, six separate dining rooms and three bars.
Twin Oaks Restaurant was founded by William DeAngelus Sr. in 1933. In 1928, during Prohibition, he began distilling whiskey to sell to his friends, at his home, until federal agents destroyed the still in 1933. Later that same year, Twin Oaks was born. Directly due to the past success of the speakeasy, DeAngelus decided to go into the restaurant business and never looked back.
Today, DeAngelus’ grandchildren are running the family restaurant with both William DeAngelus III (Billy) and Susan DeAngelus Valles following in their parents’ footsteps in the restaurant industry.
The restaurant is named for three sets of twin oak trees that shaded its grounds. The restaurant overlooks Spectacle Pond, which adds atmosphere for diners both in the restaurant and out on the latest addition, the patio featuring outdoor dining in good weather.
Longevity is key to both the operation and the employees at Twin Oaks; many start as bus boys and work their way up to waiter or manager. For the most part, employees have remained with the restaurant for more than 20, 30 or 40 years.
“The staff has become one big team and that is how we operate,” said DeAngelus Valles, who works as a manager at the restaurant. “My family has put their heart and soul into this business, and it was my grandfather and father that have made Twin Oaks what it is today. I am happy that we can continue the legacy.”
The original Twin Oaks began with one small dining room, a bar and three private function rooms that could only accommodate eight to 10 people. Mrs. Eva DeAngelus prepared all the meals herself in her own kitchen and would send the food across the street to the restaurant. Her homemade sauce is still on the menu today. Her husband, William DeAngelus Sr., made sure that all meats were cut fresh at the restaurant and that tradition has continued to today.
“We have a very active kitchen,” said DeAngelus Valles.
An addition to the Twin Oaks was not built until 1959, which was a time of big change at the restaurant. The first of the additional rooms was built, called the Club Room. Around that time, William DeAngelus Sr. retired and turned over the operations to his son, William DeAngelus Jr. Further additions were made to Twin Oaks as the years progressed to meet the demands of customers.
Twin Oaks would then be struck with tragedy as the founder, William DeAngelus Sr., passed away on Valentine’s Day in 1979 and a blaze that started out as a kitchen fire destroyed the building in 1980. Twin Oaks and the oak trees it was named for ceased to exist.
Within a few weeks after the fire, William DeAngelus Jr. rented space on Oaklawn Avenue while the new Twin Oaks was being reconstructed and opened again in 1981. The design of the new restaurant took on the same cozy and traditional feeling as the former one. Young oak trees were also planted on the property.
“We have had many new additions to Twin Oaks,” said DeAngelus Valles.
Additions to Twin Oaks along the path of its history include the Club Room in 1959, the Oak Room in 1964, The Twins Room, formerly a gift shop, in 1972, The Tavern Room in 1980 after the fire, the Acorn Room, which was the result of renovations of the three original private rooms in the older Twin Oaks, the Founder’s Room in 1977 and the Golden Oak Room and Bar in 1986.
The restaurant now employs 180 people. What once was a small restaurant known for good food and comfortable dining has grown and will still continue to grow, according to DeAngelus Valles.
“We are steeped in tradition,” she said, “and we have seen generations of families pass through our door. Grandparents who enjoyed the restaurant since its beginning are now bringing their children and their grandchildren to Twin Oaks as a tradition. We have seen children grow up as they have returned to dine over the years.
“Many celebrations have been held here, as we have seen engagements, wedding parties, birthday parties, anniversary gatherings, bridal showers and other special occasions,” she continued.
DeAngelus Valles describes Twin Oaks as a second home for the employees, staff and customers. She was quick to point out how many waiters and chefs and other staff members have been with the family restaurant, often beginning in their teenage years. Normally, waiters cannot make a good living in the restaurant industry, yet Twin Oaks waiters have been able to raise their families on their income and generous tips from patrons. Twin Oaks is known to hire within and provide opportunities for their employees.
“Twin Oaks and all it means to the patrons, the community and my family is in our blood. It is a tradition that combines fine food and fun at the same time,” said DeAngelus Valles.
DeAngelus Valles, as with most of the employees, staff or management, began working at Twin Oaks at the age of 16.
“As many have come here to celebrate their special occasions,” she said, “we invite others to come and help us to celebrate 80 years in business on Jan. 21.
“As in the show ‘Cheers,’ it is a place where everyone knows your name, and if we are just meeting you for the first time, we make it such a pleasant atmosphere that many of our patrons are returning customers.”