Tulare-based burger chain works to expand their locations to downtown Visalia
By Stephanie Barraza
Special to the Sun-Gazette
VISALIA – You would be hard-pressed to find someone that dislikes Wimpy’s Hamburgers.
The original Tulare location is adorned with dozens of pieces of fan art, including hand-drawn sketches, letters, photos, and 1950’s memorabilia focused on the plump and penny-pinching Popeye cartoon, J. Wellington Wimpy, or simply known as “Wimpy.” His character and his famous phrase, “gladly pay you on a Tuesday for a hamburger today,” inspired the name of the restaurant.
One of the many napkins that are pinned to the wall inside, has a hand-drawn portrait of Popeye and his burger-loving friend and reads, “Been stopping here for years every time I come through Tulare.”
So for one of Tulare’s most cherished food establishments to be expanding to downtown Visalia, local fans are rejoicing that their favorite burger joint will now have multiple locations across Tulare County.
Ralph Enriquez, who is from Tulare but lives in Visalia, says that when it comes to choosing a favorite restaurant, people tend to gravitate toward specific ones for different reasons, and in this case, Wimpy’s is his favorite burger restaurant for the memories it brings him, aside from the “wonderful, wonderful fries,” of course.
“Besides our love of burgers, we have nostalgia that comes with our favorites,” he said. “In-N-Out will always remind me of ten years of post-Warped Tour while Wimpy’s reminds me of high school friends to family to even introducing it to my wife while dating.”
Willy Espinoza, who co-owns the restaurant with his brother, Duval, says his brother made a proposal to buy the restaurant from its former owner, Aziz Attaran, who ran Wimpy’s for more than a decade.
Since acquiring it, the brothers have managed the restaurant and opened its second location in Dinuba, all in the span of three years.
“I’m a partner with my brother, Duval, who owns Frosty King in Exeter,” said Willy. “A few years ago we spoke to the owner, Aziz, and asked him if he was interested in selling Wimpy’s. A year went by and he called and we were very lucky to buy it from him.”
After opening the second restaurant in Dinuba late last year, the brothers decided to choose downtown Visalia as their third opening of Wimpy’s due to its location and lack of similar burger-focused restaurants.
“We have always liked downtown Visalia,” said Willy. “I know there’s not a lot of burger joints in downtown and we had a lot of customers who asked to bring the restaurant there.”
The Visalia location would take over what was Gumbo Express at 101 S. Court St., a small Chinese restaurant located next to what was once Cellar Door, a bar which was known for its live shows and nightlife.
Willy says the new location will seat about 40 to 50 people, which would include customers seated outside in a proposed patio area. He says a couple of other changes will also come to the new restaurant, including some additions to the menu and modifying the aesthetic from the quintessential “diner look” of the original Tulare location.
“We’re probably going to have the same items and the same menu, but also thinking of selling craft beer,” he said. “We’re also going to try to do a little more modern and rustic look, but we’re still going to have the same bold look to it, like we have in Tulare and Dinuba.”
Willy, who has been in the restaurant business with Duval for 25 years including owning and managing local Mexican restaurant, Los Arbolitos, says they estimate on opening the Visalia location by the end of this year or beginning next year and are also looking to expand Wimpy’s beyond Tulare County.
“We’re working on one in Lemoore,” he said.
With the expansion looking promising, local Wimpy’s goers are also looking forward to share the restaurant for their families to experience in the future.
“Eventually our son is going to join the Wimpy’s fold,” said Enriquez. “The fries are amazing, the burgers are tasty, it’s hometown, and local.”