Hillsdale’s newest sandwich shop has a liquor license, but owner Derek Spiteri isn’t sure he’s ready to use it.

Derek Spiteri stands behind the counter at Handmade. Facebook

Spiteri obtained a liquor license this spring, but as it approaches its first birthday, Handmade has developed along the sandwich line, being voted No. 10 on MLive’s list of the best sub shops in Michigan. Now, Spiteri said, he looks to improve speed of service in a restaurant that bills itself as both a quick lunch stop and a high-quality com­munity eatery.

“‘Becoming a restaurant’ is kind of the story of what’s hap­pened here. I’m buying pieces of restaurant equipment that improve our effi­ciency. But it’s taken a full year to settle down,” Spiteri said. “Handmade is evolving into a shape that it didn’t have nine months ago.”

With Spiteri’s back­ground at Checker Records, he said he envi­sioned the shop as a stop for sand­wiches and drinks, with a menu that would include an array of craft beers, including a coffee-fla­vored brew that he had planned as his sig­nature.

But expanding the menu to include alcohol is about more than signing a piece of paper: Spiteri needs someone to sell him the bev­erages, cus­tomers who are willing to buy it, and a business model that will accom­modate it.

“The liquor license is all set to go, but now I’m looking for a dis­tributor,” Spiteri said.

Larger dis­trib­utors are asking him to buy 500 units a week, and he doesn’t have that much room in the cooler.

He doesn’t have time in his schedule, either. Spiteri is busy making sand­wiches, catering events, and buying new equipment that will make the serving process faster after a promising summer that cemented the shop’s place in the com­munity.

“I was painfully aware that when the stu­dents left, we’d be less busy,” Spiteri said. “But there was less drop off than I antic­i­pated.”

Handmade’s quality and variety are selling points for Angie Pytel, a vis­iting pro­fessor of chem­istry.

Pytel claimed that she’s designed the perfect Handmade sandwich: It’s an Italian dip on warmed French bread. Some­times, she chases it down with nitro-brew cold coffee.

This semester, she plans to switch up her office hours by holding meetings with stu­dents at Handmade and Rough Draft, the coffee shop across the street.

The fact that she can’t buy a beer at Handmade doesn’t ruin any of those plans, Pytel said.

“Hon­estly, when I go there, I don’t miss it,” said Pytel, who has been at Hillsdale since 2003 and remembers when Oakley, the pre­vious name of the property Handmade now occupies, used to sell a variety of beers. “Handmade has become more of a lunch place. People get their sand­wiches and then go back to work. And the beer isn’t going to make the sandwich taste any better.”

Handmade’s growing pop­u­larity both for drop-ins and catering orders is a blessing and a curse; wait times can stretch past 20 minutes on weekdays. To alle­viate that issue, Pytel developed a strategy: she avoids the rushed lunch hour com­pletely, showing up around 2 p.m. so she can have a quiet meal and get some work done to the tune of Handmade’s home-curated music playlist.

“The only thing holding them back is the capacity to put out sand­wiches faster without losing their quality,” Pytel said.

Spiteri said he is working on improving speed of service by hiring more employees for the fall and pur­chasing more effi­cient equipment for the sandwich line in order to accom­modate people with tight schedules.

Dylan Lot­tinville, a junior eco­nomics major, has estab­lished himself as a regular at Handmade — he ate there almost every day before the campus cafe­teria opened. When some­thing went wrong with his order two days in a row, Spiteri gave him his next sandwich on the house.

“A couple times the wait was really long, and he apol­o­gized the next time,” Lot­tinville said. “It’s nice when someone knows you, cares about you, and rec­og­nizes you.”

And the pos­si­bility of having a beer with his Santa Fe sub with spinach and jalapenos?

“I was just talking to my friends about this the other day,” Lot­tinville said. “I think it would be kinda cool. I’m not sure if it’s a huge draw, but it would be cool and unique. But it would change their image, since they’ve become more of a lunch place and a family place.”

The appearance of new busi­nesses in town has helped Spiteri to dis­cover and develop this niche. When Rough Draft opened, Spiteri said he began focusing more on researching cre­ative flavors and com­bi­na­tions, such as pis­tachio lattes and espresso on ice cream.

The variety of unex­pected flavors is part of what keeps people coming back, Spiteri said.

“It’s a nice mix of the college and town com­mu­nities coming together,” Pytel said. “Derek is so pas­sionate about his sand­wiches. He can be as busy as he can be, and if someone comes in there and they look like they’re new, he’ll explain the menu and how it works … It’s just very sweet.”