Wilma’s Patio: Small Business, Big Dreams
Posted on March 29, 2014 by Taylor Rhea
Wilma and Maurice “Morey” Staudinger were on their way to pick out carpet for their new house. On the way, they stopped for lunch on Balboa Island in Newport Beach, California. Little did they know, this particular lunch date wasn’t ordinary.
During the meal, the couple joked with the owner of the restaurant about buying the place from him and by the end of lunch, the papers were signed and it was settled! That was in 1975.
The two had some restaurant experience, having owned an A&W Root Beer in Lake Tahoe some years back. But this would be an entirely new venture.
As opposed to the comforts of a national chain, this would be a full-fledged, independently-owned restaurant. “The franchise limited what I could do, and I wanted to be independent, and have a better menu,” recalled Wilma.
Wilma and Morey grew up on farms in Colorado during the Depression and grew all their own food. Needless to say, having fresh, home-style cooking was a natural choice when they began the menu planning process.
As one can imagine, there were many things that had to be completed before the restaurant opened under the oversight of Wilma and Morey. “We had to do a complete remodel, down to the studs. We worked with local architect Jerry Shoffner,” said Wilma’s daughter, Sheri, who now owns to the family restaurant. “A funny story: Jerry named it Wilma’s Patio. She did not want to name it after herself because she does not like her name!”
“Now my daughter Sheri owns it. Sheri started working in the family restaurants at 10 years old,” says Wilma, proudly.
Wilma’s Patio quickly became a local favorite and remains highly acclaimed in the Newport Beach area today.
In the start-up days, the restaurant was open for breakfast and lunch and only served dinner during the summer season. Wilma recalled, “We had a one-page menu when we opened, and we would keep specials if they did well. Now, our menu is 10 pages long!”
Today, Wilma’s Patio is best known for breakfast. “People will wait up to an hour on Sundays for it,” stated Sheri. Most certainly, Wilma’s Patio hearkens to the days when Mom had breakfast waiting on the table.
Wilma’s Patio knows how to keep customers coming back. Sheri described the staff and customers as a close-knit family. “The key is friendliness and the atmosphere. Everyone knows you, we know the regulars, and know their orders as soon as they walk in. We have long-standing employees, including one who has been there since the very beginning.”
Before his death in 1995, Morey was the official greeter of the restaurant, welcoming customers and telling jokes. He established the family-friendly vibe of the restaurant that continues today. “Morey and Wilma believed a good handshake and a good pat on the shoulder would be a nice personal touch,” notes Sheri.
When Wilma lost Morey, she felt her life had completely changed. “We received so many flowers, it took2 truck-loads to take them all to the Cancer Center at Hoag Hospital to donate them. We had them at the house, at the restaurant, and we couldn’t keep them all.”
Wilma worked at the restaurant until she was 77 years old and now resides in Atria Woodbridge in Irvine, California. The residents planned an outing at Wilma’s Patio not too long ago and really enjoyed it.
“People are very, very friendly [at Atria]. I love being in the dining room, and I sit by the door so I can see everyone. The exposed beams look like the ones that were in the original restaurant.” Wilma shares one piece of wisdom for those in the restaurant business: “Know your customers. I feel as though I didn’t pick the industry, but the industry picked me.”
The restaurant has also been featured in many magazines and news outlets, including the Daily Mail in the UK as one of the six things to do while in Newport Beach.