GOLD CANYON -- On any given night, you may be sitting down to your meal at a local eatery in Gold Canyon when all of a sudden, the front door swings open and you hear the shout of excitement: “WAHOO!”
That shout would most likely belong to Lisa Fairbanks, followed by her husband, Stan Fairbanks. The Fairbanks are the owners of Wahoo’s Restaurant & Bar in Gold Canyon. The restaurant is inconspicuously tucked in between rows of new commercial developments, but this restaurant doesn’t follow the status quo of those businesses surrounding it. Wahoo’s is a blast back to the past diner where the food is great, the service is better, and the people feel like family. It’s what the Fairbanks strive for.
“Our philosophy is that you’re only a stranger once,” Lisa said.
In fact, the Fairbanks make it their personal mission to maintain this philosophy. When they walk into their restaurant, they personally go to each table and talk to the guests there. Lisa said they guarantee that every person who walks through their doors is touched in some way — whether that be a hug (for which Lisa is famous), a pat on the back or even a handshake. The Fairbanks’ goal is to make people feel as welcome as possible.
And that methodology seems to be working, given the number of regulars that make a habit of stopping by for a drink or a meal. In fact, the Fairbanks claim these regulars, and all the people in the community, including their staff, are what kept them afloat when COVID-19 hit.
Like most food businesses during this time, Wahoo’s took a big hit. Stan said they blew through their savings faster than they would have imagined.
“We were to the point where we were going to sell our house to keep the restaurant open,” Stan said.
Luckily, the disaster didn’t get to that point — thanks to the community and some creativity on the Fairbanks’ part. Lisa said many of their staff cut their hours to help with overall costs. In addition, community members helped out in any way they could.
One of those ways was by attending the “drive-in” events that the Fairbanks created. Due to COVID-19 rules at the time, the Fairbanks determined that they could sell to-go orders and liquor in their parking lot. They recruited local musicians and had their staff play the roles of “car hops.”
“You could just feel how happy people were just to be out of the house,” Lisa said. “It gave us joy, it gave our employees money and it kept us on the radar.”
Stan said it was like a giant tailgate party. The idea was only intended for one week, but the very next weekend, people started showing up again — and the weekend after that, until it was a regular thing. In fact, the Fairbanks want to continue and make the drive-in a regular event at Wahoo’s.
The drive-in is one example of how strong the sense of community is within the walls of Wahoo’s, and that is exactly what the Fairbanks are striving for. They want each and every person who walks through their doors to feel like family.
And even though the Fairbanks think the world of their customers, they would say the feeling is mutual.
Mary Braddock and her husband head out to Wahoo’s on a weekly basis. “This woman (Lisa) is amazing,” Braddock said, with tears in her eyes. “This place is an integral part of our community.”
And now, while many businesses are still struggling to keep their doors open, Wahoo’s is seeing a reemergence. More than that, they are seeing new people from outside of Gold Canyon make their way into the restaurant. Word is spreading, and it appears people from Apache Junction all the way to Phoenix and everywhere in between want to see what Wahoo’s is all about.
Lisa said that not only is that great news for their business but also for other businesses in the area that have taken a hit and need more customers through their doors.
“We pride ourselves in being a place that groups can gather,” she said.
She believes those groups not only benefit the business of Wahoo’s but all other businesses in the area. But they would do anything to help their community, the Fairbanks said. That is why the couple is also known for hosting charitable events and contributing to local nonprofit organizations.
They said, for them, making more money doesn’t mean they get to keep more money for themselves — it means they have more money to give away. They said it’s the only thing they can think to do after being blessed so much in their businesses.
That success can be attributed to God and hard work, they said. And moving forward, they plan on following the same method.
“We just keep putting one foot in front of the other and hope we’re doing it right,” she said.
Wahoo’s is located at 8654 E. Topaz Drive in Gold Canyon. They are open Monday to Wednesday from noon to 9 p.m., Thursday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 8.
The Fairbanks also own an ice cream shop called Oldie’s. The shop is located at 5301 S. Superstition Mountain Drive and is open seven days a week from 2 to 8 p.m. PW