Having a week off for spring break, my husband and I planned a trip to Taos, New Mexico to visit my sister and brother-in-law. Two weeks prior to the trip, someone sent me a link to a video that altered our vacation plans a bit. The video is about a unique restaurant in Albuquerque called Tim’s Place, aka “The World’s Friendliest Restaurant.” (View it here, after a brief commercial: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6He0FWoFj0). After seeing the video, I knew I had to go there, and since we were flying into Albuquerque anyway, the side trip would be easy to arrange.
Tim’s Place is owned and operated by Tim Harris, a 26 year old man who has Down Syndrome. Living by the motto, “If you can dream it, you can do it,” Tim’s young life is full of dreams fulfilled: homecoming king in his senior year in high school, “more Special Olympics medals than Michael Phelps” as he will proudly tell you, successful completion of a two-year college degree with certificates in Food Service and Office Skills, and even living for two years on a boat with his family, sailing around the Bahamas and becoming an accomplished sailor and fisherman. After working his way through school in other restaurants, he and his entrepreneurial parents set out to fill another dream: ownership of his own restaurant. This, in itself, is unique. What makes the place even more special is that everyone who enters gets a hug.
Last Tuesday, we entered Tim’s world when we walked through the doors of Tim’s Place. Situated in a new shopping center at the foot of the Sandia Mountains, the scenery from the large front window is beautiful. Inside, the restaurant is wide open and cheery, with plenty of room around each table for everyone, including those using wheelchairs and walkers. The walls, painted bright red and yellow, are decorated with the highlights of Tim’s life to date: his homecoming sash and photos, Special Olympics medals, a digital “hug counter,” framed articles in local and national publications, and lots of beach and sea-related pictures and paraphernalia — a surprising but fun sight in this desert setting. Restrooms are also large, bright, and fully accessible. The waitstaff were equally friendly and attentive to all and the lunch was delicious.
Within minutes of being seated, we were greeted by Tim. He sat with us for a chat, and asked if he could videotape a greeting from us for a documentary he is making. Tim is adept with the mini-digital camera and described how he would edit and caption the clip. As we talked, a family of six entered the restaurant, parents and four daughters, the youngest in a wheelchair. Tim politely excused himself, saying “THAT is who I will eat my lunch with.” The family had traveled from Minnesota to dine there; like us, they had seen the video and were drawn to the restaurant to meet this remarkable young man for themselves. They were delighted that Tim chose them to be his lunch companions, and Tim graciously obliged with hugs and lots of picture-taking. I’ve had many great meals in many fine restaurants, but none were as heartwarming and inspiring as my meal at Tim’s Place.
I believe that every experience is a learning experience, and there was much to learn and to be reminded of at Tim’s Place.
- Tim is living proof of his motto, “If you dream it, you can do it.” He is also proof of how far a person with special needs can go when provided with parental support, social and educational opportunities, and high expectations. As SLPs, we should keep Tim in mind and strive to always keep expectations high for our students, and to always make the most of each student’s individual interests, talents, and aspirations. I will be posting Tim’s “dream” motto in my therapy room.
- The restaurant is a model in accessibility. In addition to the aforementioned accommodations inside, the entire storefront outside is lined with handicap parking spots and convenient curbcuts. As SLPs, we foster “accessibility” for our students by providing support in communication, social skills, and curriculum, whether directly or through consultation and inservicing. Breaking down barriers is what we do best. IEP goals should always reflect this aim. Another sign will be going up in my room, paraphrased from the entryway of Tim’s Place: “We are more alike than we are different.”
- The title, “The World’s Friendliest Restaurant,” is well deserved. It was particularly illuminating to realize that everyone at Tim’s Place came specifically with the expectation of being warmly welcomed and well-served. What a positive and energized atmosphere this creates! I hope that students come to my therapy room with the same high expectation….and I hope their expectations are always met, even on those days when caseload demands are most pressing. To remind my students and myself that the expectation of learning is powerful, positive, and energizing, I will be posting the slogan from Tim’s t-shirt on my therapy room door: “It’s about to get awesome!”
To learn more about Tim “the Man,” please visit http://timsplaceabq.com/. And if your travels ever take you through Albuquerque, be sure to stop by Tim’s Place for breakfast or lunch, and give Tim a hug for me!