Category - Eat

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Wimpy’s Paradise Serves Up Comfort Food with a Side of Free Hugs
2
An Enchanted Dinner In the Desert
3
Even Stevens Sandwiches Opens Location in Arcadia

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.

An Enchanted Dinner In the Desert

Cloth & Flame, desert dinner, Phoenix, desert

I had first heard about the Cloth & Flame desert dinners when I met Matt Cooley and Olivia Laux during Phoestivus 2016. The duo come from two different backgrounds. Olivia worked in chemical engineering; while Matt worked in tourism in Alaska, and worked wholesale for an ice cream shop in Oregon.

Cloth & Flame was born on the premise of encouraging community, and inspiring people into helping protect the Sonoran Desert and wilderness areas here in Arizona. According to the website, “We pay to lease land for our dinners, so areas that might otherwise be developed can act instead as a source of income for the landowner. We also give 10% of every dinners’ proceeds to great coalitions that work to preserve migratory routes and wild places in our inimitable state.”

They had first included the dinners along with their balloon tours, but as of December 31st 2016, they branched out to also just do the dinners. “We just realized that more could be done with it. It’s just stunning out there and so many people in our community never have the chance to really spend time in the desert, or just don’t know where to begin. We started collaborating with local chefs and artisans, and realized that others are inspired by the desert too, and the rest is history,” Matt further explained. 

I had the chance to experience this magical desert bespoke, alfresco-style meal recently, and was just so impressed at the whole concept. I arrived that their North Phoenix office, which was the official meet-up point. After a brief introduction, and what to expect, we were loaded into two vans and drove to the destination.

About a half-hour later, we arrived in the heart of the desert; away from the city and freeways. The long community-style wooden table and benches were set up amongst the saguaros and cholla. The table was set with desert florals, china, and silverware. It was like a bohemian fairytale.

We started out with a cocktail hour, accompanied with an appetizer. While most everyone had the ceviche, myself and a couple other vegetarians had the kimchi “crackers” and guacamole. It was actually really good! It had just enough spice for a small kick, but the guacamole leveled it out with just the right amount of flavor.

 Kimchi and guacamole, Cloth & Flame, desert dinner

Kimchi “Crackers” and Guacamole

 

After cocktail hour, we all gathered at the table, where Matt and Olivia introduced themselves and told us about the company. We then feasted on the first course. My vegetarian version was the Charred Spring Pea Toast. Again, didn’t disappoint. I definitely could’ve eaten more than one of those.

Charred Spring Pea Toast, Cloth & Flame, desert dinner

Charred Spring Pea Toast

Next up was the pozole. Again, I had the meatless version. Mushrooms floated in this amazing broth, that had somewhat of a spicy kick. The cabbage and lime were added as extra flavor. Definitely one of those dishes that I could eat over and over.

Vegetable Pozole, Cloth & Flame, desert dinner

Vegetable Pozole

The main entree for me was the Charred Cauliflower, Kimchi Potato Salad, and Spring Vegetables. I really loved the flavor of the charred cauliflower, which I also mixed in with the kimchi potato salad, making for an effortless flavorful combination.

Charred cauliflower, kimchi potato salad, spring vegetables, Cloth & Flame, desert dinner

Charred Cauliflower, Kimchi Potato Salad, Spring Vegetables

Our last course was dessert. We had the Pistachio Pound Cake, Citrus, Mint Meringues, and Citrus Sabayon. Goodness, what a great way to end an evening in the desert.

Pistachio pound cake, citrus, mint meringues, and citrus sabayon, Cloth & Flame, desert dinner

Pistachio Pound Cake, Citrus, Mint Meringues, and Citrus Sabayon

I want to personally thank (and e-hug) the following people that made that night possible and inspiring: Chefs Brent Kille and Donny Hawk from Okra and The Gladly respectively. The Cloth & Flame team: Olivia Laux and Matt Cooley- Co-Owners, Alana Tivnan- Events and Growth Manager,  Holly Ruggerio- Director of Operations, and Derek Christensen- Head Chef.

Be sure to also follow Cloth & Flame on Facebook and Instagram.

Even Stevens Sandwiches Opens Location in Arcadia

Even Stevens Arcadia Grand Opening, Phoenix events, Phoenix restaurant

Salt Lake City-based eatery Even Stevens had a recent grand opening of a location in the Arcadia neighborhood of Phoenix. The craft-casual restaurant specializes in sandwiches, salads, breakfast, and other bites; while also bringing customers a sense of local attributes. Even Stevens also has a huge heart. They believe in “eat one, give one,” in that for each sandwich bought in store, they donate a sandwich to a local non-profit.

The folks at Even Stevens explain, “Eat to give turns customers into benefactors, investing in the community’s well-being and creating sustainable change. We aren’t handing out bologna sandwiches at the park. We’re partnering with non-profits who we’ve identified as partners, and donate healthy, fresh sandwich-making ingredients to bolster their meal programs. Saving them cash and allowing for reallocation into the programs they care about. Food connects everyone, and the culinary experience at Even Stevens begins with that understanding. By sourcing local and sourcing craft, welcome the community into our supply chain of love. By offering fresh takes on nostalgic recipes, we connect to our personal and collective roots through our palate.”

The Even Stevens Arcadia location paired with four non-profit beneficiaries: Native American Connections, ICM Food and Clothing Bank, Friendly House, and Joshua Tree Feeding Program. They also collaborated with Peixoto Coffee, San Tan Brewing Company, Proof Bread, and other local vendors for food and beverage partnerships.

Even Stevens Arcadia Grand Opening, Phoenix events, Phoenix restaurant

Even Stevens Arcadia Grand Opening, Phoenix events, Phoenix restaurant

Even Stevens Arcadia Grand Opening, Phoenix events, Phoenix restaurant

Even Stevens Arcadia Grand Opening, Phoenix events, Phoenix restaurant

Even Stevens Arcadia Grand Opening, Phoenix events, Phoenix restaurant

I attended their “Hype Night,” a couple days before the official grand opening celebration. Guests were able to try the dishes, mix, mingle, and learn about the new store. I met the store’s designer- Daniel Packman, with Design Blue– who told me a little about the store’s unique features, such as that the tables were creating using 1930s bowling lanes. The store’s overall design was inspired by Arcadia’s rich citrus farming history. A bright color palette coincided with rustic accents, including reclaimed barn doors. The restrooms were inspired by vibrant indoor potting sheds, and even includes lotions and handy sprays in the convenient shelving. Don’t forget to also “Wash Yo Hands!”

Even Stevens Arcadia Grand Opening, Phoenix events, Phoenix restaurant

I had the Jackfruit Torta, salad, pickle, and the Brava Tots- seen above. You guys… the photo doesn’t do the food justice. The sandwich had jackfruit carnitas, pepitas, guacamole, salsa morita, radish, cilantro, lettuce, pickled onions- all lovingly put between a sweet bun. The food was fresh and delicious. The Brava Tots- whomever invented those deserves a hug. The tots were sprinkled with smokey paprika, with Brava Aioli sauce drizzled on top. Best tater tots EVER!

Even Stevens Arcadia Grand Opening, Phoenix events, Phoenix restaurant

Even Stevens Arcadia Grand Opening, Phoenix events, Phoenix restaurant

Even Stevens Arcadia Grand Opening, Phoenix events, Phoenix restaurant

I ended my evening by doing a cheesy slo-mo video provided by Crazy Shotz (see below).

 

 

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