They just don’t make ’em like Wilson’s anymore. They can’t. When this Paso Robles landmark opened at the corner of 28th and Spring, its phone number was three digits, a steak dinner cost 55 cents, and a luxurious abalone feast would set you back 85 cents.
Currently owned by Harold and Gail Hansen, the restaurant was established in 1948 by Harold’s mother and stepfather, Georgia and Russ Wilson.
Harold grew up working in the restaurant, and eventually took over the business in 1963, the year after he’d married a young phone company employee named Gail.
Over the ensuing years, Harold transitioned the partdrive-in, part-sitdown restaurant into a fine dining house serving breakfast, lunch and dinner, remembered Gail. The kitchen operated as its own in-house butcher, a banquet room was added, and bowling lanes were built next door.
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In 1979, one of the first calls the Hansens heard on their brand new police scanner was that a major fire had broken out at Wilson’s. Ultimately, everything was lost but the bowling alley.
Undeterred, the Hansens decided to rebuild across the street on property used as a parking lot for the original restaurant, and the “new” Wilson’s opened during the Mid-State Fair in August 1981.
Though the restaurant stopped serving dinner about five years ago, little else has changed. The spotless interior still sports the original brown and orange décor throughout the tables, booths and counter seating areas, and much of the kitchen and serving staff is the same as well. Gail noted that “we don’t even need a manager — they all know what they’re supposed to do and they do it.”
As for the menu, you can count on a place like this to serve up time-honored classics.
Wilson’s masterfully slings up all the usual suspects for breakfast: eggs, bacon, sausage, ham, pork chops, buttermilk hot cakes, waffles, French toast, corned beef hash and hash browns. Also among the favorites are the chicken-fried steak and the three-egg California omelette. Or you can put a Mexican spin on the morning with huevos rancheros, chorizo and eggs, or a breakfast burrito with eggs and your choice of cheese and bacon or sausage.
The breakfast menu is served all day long at Wilson’s, and so are the lunch options. Again, expect spoton showings of hearty classics like a burger on a French roll or a patty melt with French fries, a chef’s salad or a clubhouse sandwich, fish and chips or the tuna salad sandwich that’s a long-standing Friday special.
Gail added that the restaurant is also known for its Reuben and French dip sandwiches, and especially the Wilson’s Melt with roast beef, jack cheese and grilled onions on sour dough. Another longtime favorite that never left the menu is the beef liver and onions, and for many loyal patrons, the hot fudge sundae is a destination unto itself.
After so many years at the helm of Wilson’s, Gail admitted that she and Harold are eyeing retirement, but you can tell by the way she greets longtime customers that the Hansens have relished the ride.
“I love people and all walks of life,” she said, adding that “it’s really fun when you’ve gotten to know little kids that have drawn you something on a menu, and then one day they start coming in with their kids and grandkids!”