Wimpy’s Paradise Serves Up Comfort Food with a Side of Free Hugs

Randy Walters, Wimpy's Paradise, restaurant, Chandler AZ

Meet Randy Walters. This Pittsburgh native turned Arizonan is the owner of Wimpy’s Paradise- a charming small restaurant in historic downtown Chandler (that was indeed named after the Popeye’s character). This restaurant may look like your average mom ‘n pop, but to the unseen eye, there’s a history behind it.  In 1939, Randy’s father a couple restaurants called Wimpy’s Paradise. In 1941, when his father went to fight in World War Two, both restaurants closed up and never reopened. Growing up, Randy would see menus from the restaurants, which were always intriguing to him. One day, they had a father-son discussion. After his father gave his point of the discussion, he asked if Randy had any questions. Randy answered, “Yes, do you have any regrets in life?” His father then responded, “The only regret was not reopening Wimpy’s Paradise.” So that resonated with him, and he thought that it’d be cool if he could bring Wimpy’s Paradise back to life.

After being let go from his job as a painter in 2006, Randy bought a hot dog cart and schlepped it around for a few years.  He then decided to open a very small three table place in Merchant Square called Pittsburgh Willy’s, which lasted for about five and a half years. Then, on Valentine’s Day 2013, he opened Wimpy’s Paradise. “I was basically bringing my dad’s dream back to life. To finish his dream along with mine.”

Thanks to this AZCentral article, the restaurant has recently been getting some well-deserved attention; not just because of Walters’ exceptional hot dogs and burgers, but also the simple chalkboard sign that sits outside the door.

Wimpy's Paradise, restaurant, Chandler AZ

The sign reads: We DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR race, color, religion, sexual orientation, political views, or if your {you’re} a vegetarian. EVERYONE is welcome at Wimpy’s Paradise. Not hungry? Stop in for a HUG. Let’s become a world of HUGS and HELP, not HATE and HURT. 

Randy has always created numerous signs. “After the election this year, there seemed to be so much divisiveness in the country, even among some of my friends. We all have friends on Facebook that are either extreme right or extreme left; which we didn’t find out until this happened. It seemed like we were polarized, instead of unified. So I thought, ‘You know what?  The heck with that,’ so I just put a sign out front saying that everybody is welcome here, and I genuinely mean that. The response just blew me away. It’s probably one of the most photographed signs in Chandler. It’s literally been all over the world and on different media outlets. But it’s helped a lot of people too, and I think that’s the important thing.”

Mr. Walters also accounts for many stories that have happened ever since he put the sign up.  On the day I was there, he just had a (presumably older) woman from Apache Junction/East Mesa area call him up and wanted to know how to get to the restaurant. He goes on to explain, “I said I gave her directions and asked when did she think she’d be in. She said it’d be this afternoon, tomorrow or Saturday. I said ok, and started to tell her when the kitchen closes. She said, ‘I’m not coming to eat, I’m just coming for a hug. I really want to meet you, and I just want a hug and to sit with you for a few minutes.’ Everybody’s fighting windmills. Maybe she is, but it’s something about it [the sign] that touched her and to drive 40 miles for a hug… You should be able to get a hug around the corner… or next door.” At the time of publication, I’m unsure as to if she followed through.

He also recalls the most intense encounter.  “I had a girl come in one day and asked if I was the “hug guy.” I said ‘Yeah.’ She grabbed me and hugged me tightly for a long period of time that was usually appropriate. When she let up, I let up. When she pulled away, there were tears. I said, ‘Are you ok?’ She replied, ‘No, I’m in a very dark place, and I was going to kill myself today. This is what I needed.’  I asked if she wanted to sit and talk. Or if she needed some help.  She said, “No no. I’m fine,” and walked out the door.” To this day, he doesn’t know if the outcome of the situation was happy or tragic. “But at least for a moment, it gave her some comfort, and I’d like to think that maybe it took her to the next day and the next …Wherever she needed to go to get out of her dark place. It’s just a simple hug. Can you imagine if we were ALL doing that??” The effect it can have on the whole world. ”

He also had a Muslim man come in and hug him. Randy recalled that the man had tears coming out of his eyes, and he just thanked him for putting the sign out there. “He says because his wife dresses in the traditional garb. They’ve seen so much hatred towards them.” The man later came back with his wife.  “It was nice to meet her, she was so sweet and kind.”

Wimpy's Paradise, Chandler AZ, Randy Walters, restaurant

Wimpy's Paradise, Chandler AZ, Randy Walters, restaurant

Since late January, over 3,000 hugs have been given. Half of them weren’t customers, but mainly just people walking by and wanting a hug. “It you want to come in and buy something that’s great, but you don’t have to. If you come in, want or need a hug, that’s what it’s there for.”

Wimpy’s Paradise serves up some of the best comfort food in town. “But everything’s done really well. When my dad and I had that talk, the one thing that stuck with me forever, was that I remember saying to him, ‘If I ever have a restaurant like you, what do I have to do to make it work? ‘ My dad looked at me and said, ‘Two things: always use the best, freshest ingredients you can, and make sure every customer knows that they’re the most important customer in the world.’ You can pretty much apply that to any business, and it is that simple…You can’t fool people. So you have to be honest with them. I shop fresh every day. Nothing’s delivered. It gives me an opportunity to make sure everything’s fresh, and to see and feel, and touch the vegetables. The ground beef we use is fresh Angus chuck from Nebraska, which is a little more expensive than the meats around here, but the customers love it. It has worked out really well. There’s so much competition in the food industry. When anybody walks through that door, [for example], like the couple that just walked out. It was their first time in, so I visit and talk with them. They’ve got so many choices as to where they’re going to spend their food dollar, and they chose here. It blows me away that they’re willing to come into a complete stranger’s business, trust me to serve them good quality food in exchange for a certain price. I don’t’ take that for granted ever. There’s not a day, not a customer, not a transaction that it’s just a routine thing. I appreciate everyone. They made a conscious choice to come in here and trust me… Or when they come back, which is the best. I have customers that eat here two or three times a week for a couple years. They don’t even order. They just sit down and I bring them their usual.”

Randy Walters, Wimpy's Paradise, restaurant, Chandler AZ

When eating at Wimpy’s, there are some notable dishes that are worth tasting, one of the being the Homemade No Bean Chili. Then there’s the Freddy G. Burger- named after a friend of his- Freddy Gardner. Freddy created this BBQ sauce that’s “out of this world, and it’s local here in Chandler. So we put in on a hot dog and named it after him.” Next, is the Dirty Burger- a half-pound burger topped with their Homemade No Bean Chili, then finished with french fried onions, and fresh cheddar cheese. Lastly, the potatoes are also quite a hit. “We make them every morning. It’s a three-hour process. We then cut them, boil them, and then when cool, we season and grill them.” On every Sunday morning, Wimpy’s Paradise also serves breakfast. I hear the biscuits and gravy are quite popular. Randy’s wife makes the 7-Up biscuits and he makes the gravy, and loads it with sausage.

The customers at the restaurant have started a “Pay It Forward” fund, that is completely funded by their donations. Some customers have donated anywhere from $10, even up to $100. There is have a hot dog named after Jaron Brown of the Cardinals, Scott Pasmore of Channel 3, and Paul Horton- weatherman on Channel 3. “Anytime you purchase any of those food items, $2 goes into the “Pay It Forward” fund, so we’re able to keep it self-funded.  It’s really nice because we buy meals for officers, not every officer, but I make sure that if an officer hasn’t been in awhile, I’ll pick up his meal. We try to host a veteran every Sunday, as well as homeless people. It’s really informal. Last year, we hosted a Thanksgiving meal. We opened for about three hours. It wasn’t fancy, it was hot dogs, chips, potato salad, pumpkin pie; but it was really cool because the Chandler police know where all the homeless people sleep, and told them that there’s a free meal across the street at Wimpy’s if you want to go. So it was a win-win for everybody. You didn’t have to be homeless to eat. I had people who were staying at the hotel. It wasn’t fancy , but it was fun. I think we served about 110 people that day. Also, World War Two vets never pay here (although one of his regulars- Harry, always insists on paying).. but the option of not paying is still there.”

If you happen to find yourself in Chandler, either for an hour, a day or two, or if you even live there; you should take the time to stop by Wimpy’s Paradise. Whether you buy a meal is up to your own vice, but stop in and say hello to Randy. Maybe you’re having a bad day, and you just want to talk about it. He’s the type of guy who’ll sit down and listen. I can guarantee that a hug from Randy will help ease any burdens of the day that you walk in with. Plus, the food ain’t so bad, either!

LOCATION: 48 San Marcos Place, Chandler, AZ 85225

HOURS: Closed Monday; Tuesday- Thursday 11-7; Friday-Saturday 11-7:30 (but if there’s an event going on downtown, then they’ll stay open until 10, 11, or 12); Sunday-8 1:30… (sometimes beyond if busy enough). They won’t do breakfast that late, but will do the burgers and hot dogs. It’s best to call on Sundays to see if they are open late.

Randy Walters, Wimpy's Paradise, restaurant, Chandler AZ

Randy Walters, Wimpy's Paradise, restaurant, Chandler AZ

Randy Walters, Wimpy's Paradise, restaurant, Chandler AZ

Randy Walters, Wimpy's Paradise, restaurant, Chandler AZ

Randy Walters, Wimpy's Paradise, restaurant, Chandler AZ

Randy Walters, Wimpy's Paradise, restaurant, Chandler AZ

Grilled Cheese and Potatoes

The grilled cheese was amazing. Definitely ask for green chilies, as they truly add a little zing to the sandwich. The potatoes were actually quite good, as the seasoning just took them to the next level. The food was definitely comforting.

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  • Love this! I think we need more restaurants that are willing to support the effort in uniting people! He sounds like such an interesting man and I am glad he is trying to make a difference in the world!

  • What a great way of making everyone feel welcome. Good food, good friends and a chance to meet other people, free hugs and I really want that burger.

  • Love the board and the love he is willing to spread through the comfortness that is food! The history behind the restaurant is amazing and I am glad he decided to re-open it! Definitely checking out this place if I am ever in the area! Thank you for sharing a gem!

  • Can I please spend a whole day just eatting here. The food looks so good and I know I’d love it. I enjoy how they have this place set up. So hometown styled I also enjoy that sign they have out. I need to make my way out there.

    • Kierra- Let me know when you decide to come to Phoenix! Would love to see/meet you and show you around! We’d totally be going here too.

  • This just made my day. I barely got through this without crying but God bless this man. We really dont know what people go through and just to know that someone, anyone cares can literally change lives. The food sounds pretty good, but I’d go for a hug. 🙂 I also think its cool that this all started with his father, and that he was so inspired to rebuild or redo what his father didnt. Great post!

    • Erin- When Randy and I were talking, it just amazed me …just the stories he would tell… and what a huge impact just a simple hug makes. I had some tears too when I left the restaurant, but it made my day. Why can’t more people be like that?

  • I’m always down for a good burger and this looks a really chill place. I always wanted to visit Arizona. I’m gonna have to keep this place bookmarked so I can check it out when I get out there. Food and music are 2 of God’s gifts that can always bring people together. Big Ups to Wimpy’s!

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