Tim Harris, was the first Down Syndrome person to own World’s Friendliest Restaurant
“IF YOU CAN DREAM IT, YOU CAN DO IT,” says Tim Harris, who owned the famous American restaurant Tim’s Place at Albuquerque in New Mexico, USA. So, what made Tim’s Place famous? Well, it was not the classic American and New Mexican dishes but Tim’s world-famous hugs. Furthermore, it was the first and only restaurant in America owned and operated by a person with Down Syndrome. Yes, Tim Harris, who has Down Syndrome, opened the restaurant in 2010 to serve breakfast, lunch, and hugs. The restaurant attracted celebrities like Mel Gibson, Paul Bettany, Jennifer Connelly, Aloe Blacc, J.R.R. Martin, and even parents of newborns with Down syndrome. Tim has featured in People Magazine. He has also appeared on CBS Evening News and CBS Sunday Morning, America Online, ABC News, NBC Today Show, NBC Nightly News, National Public Radio, and CNN News.
Tim’s parents, Keith and Jeannie, have been very supportive of Tim. Born in 1986, the young Tim loved sport. So, they encouraged him and took him to every event just so that he could participate. But, with the passage of time, Tim improved at every game and started to bring home medals. In fact, in 2013 for CNN, Tim wrote: ‘I started in Special Olympics when I was 13 years old. My Special Olympic sports are basketball, poly hockey, volleyball, golf, and track and field. I have dozens of gold medals — way more than another Olympian, Michael Phelps. Many of them are on display in my restaurant.’
Besides sport, from the time he was a kid, Tim dreamed to own a restaurant. After graduating from the Eldorado High School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 2004, he moved to Roswell, New Mexico, to attend Eastern New Mexico University. Here Tim stayed at the college dorm. In 2008 he graduated with certificates in Food Service, Office Skills, and Restaurant Hosting. After college, Tim worked for some time as a host at Applebee’s restaurant before taking time off to join his parents aboard a sailboat traveling to the Bahamas.
But his constant thought then was – I can open a restaurant. Seeing his ambition and determination Tim’s father Keith gave him the initial money to open Tim’s Place. The restaurant opened its doors in October 2010 with two goals – food and friendliness.
Tim’s Place served American and New Mexican cuisine including, huevos rancheros served with red/green chile. They also had blue/yellow corn tortillas, country fried steak, green chile grits, and the famous green chile burger dubbed The New Mexican. The other favorites were their enchiladas and green chile cheese french fries.
But what caught on was the ‘Official Hug Counter’, which made it the World’s Friendliest Restaurant!
The restaurant received great reviews on Yelp and Urbanspoon. It even got positive reviews from the Weekly Alibi and Gil’s Thrilling (And Filling) Blog. Print and TV featured Tim’s Place. Also, several celebrities came in for the food and a friendly hug from the owner, Tim Harris himself.
All good things come to an end!
“I got hit by the love bug. Every time I feel sad, my girlfriend makes me feel a lot happier,” says Tim Harris. So, America’s only Down syndrome restaurant owner was now considering moving closer to his girlfriend Tiffani Johnson. Tim met Tiffany when he was a speaker at a convention for Down Syndrome.
While he was already in love with Tiffany and getting ready to move to Denver, there was talk about Tim’s Place being selected for a reality show. Tim did move to Denver, Colorado, to pursue the production, but the plans were never realized.
So, after an impressive 75,402 hugs over five years, Tim and his family finally closed down Tim’s Place in 2015.
After closing the restaurant, Tim Harris, the dedicated go-getter, went a step further. In 2016, he started Tim’s Big Heart Enterprises. The foundation hosts charity events such as the Hug-A-Thon and has raised thousands of dollars to aid organizations and programs in his local community. Tim also spends his time traveling with his current girlfriend Megan Bomgaars to share his experiences and motivate others with Down syndrome.
He has been invited to be a keynote speaker for and received awards from dozens of organizations including, the Keller Williams International, Clay Aikin’s National Inclusion Project, Children’s Miracle Network, The NYC Welcome Conference, National Down Syndrome Congress, Special Olympics International, Kiwanis International, Civitan International, and several others.
Tim (in 2013) and Megan (in 2019) received the Quincy Jones Exceptional Advocacy Award, a prestigious honor given by the Global Down Syndrome Foundation (GLOBAL).