marked its third year in Needham this summer. The Highland Avenue restaurant opened on July 31, 2008 and is one of six Wild Willy’s locations in New England, each owned by a separate licensee. In Needham, the restaurant is owned and operated by Lesley Seder, whose daughters Robin Isenberg and Lynn Bean also work there. Needham Patch sat down with Seder recently to talk about how it all began.
How did you get started in the business? It was my husband’s idea. He financed restaurants for many years and decided he wanted a restaurant of his own. We heard about Willy’s. It was started in Maine, so we went up there and we thought it would be good for down here.
What about Willy’s appealed to you? The family atmosphere and the food. Everybody likes a good hamburger or a hot dog or chicken. We have salads for those who are health-conscious. And there’s also ice cream, frappes, sodas—just all-American food.
Tell me about the décor in here. We were told it had to be a western theme, so we got this artist and she did a lot of research. Over there [points to a painted window next to a row of booths] are a lot of famous actors from cowboy/western movies. As the artist was painting, she said, ‘You know, I can make this personal. I can put in family faces.’ So she did. My brother plays the piano, so that’s a great look-alike of my brother [in one of the painted murals]. The three little framed pictures above the piano are three of my four grandchildren. Then the dance hall ladies—my daughter Lynn is in the purple and my other daughter Robin is in the red and I’m in the black. But Lynn and Robin didn’t like their faces at all so they’re also over there on the other side [by the western actors]. You should see how many people try to figure out what actors they are. They come up with all these names. I just laugh. Then in the jail are my two sons-in-law, and then my husband Larry is at the end there; he’s the warden.
Then there was a restaurant up in Maine that we frequent that had these wooden tables that we thought would be nice, so we had the guy make them for us.
How has this location worked out for you? Well, we thought the location was really great, but we’re in here, we’re not out on the road. And so many people who live in Needham that come in new claim, ‘We never knew you were there.’ So our location isn’t the best. All the rest of the restaurants are on a main street. It’s a challenge. But we have many people who come back again and again.
I’ve heard you have children’s performers? Children’s musician Ed Morgan was coming here at lunchtime, and for some reason we weren’t doing well with it at lunch, so he’s going to be here 4:30-5:30 on Thursdays starting the last week of September.
Do you have a best seller—an item your customers rave about? They rave about the burger in general. They say it’s the best burger they’ve ever tasted. We have a basic Wild Willy burger, which is just a classic burger. We start with that, and then some people like jalapenos, guacamole, chili, etc., so they add, multiple, divide and subtract. If you don’t see something exactly the way you like it, you can just add or subtract. Any of the burgers can be made with bison meat, turkey meat or even chicken—chicken is a big seller. We have tap root beer on draft, which is made especially for Willy’s. Root beer floats have been a big winner this summer.
What about the burgers makes them so good? A lot of TLC. [Laughs] The burgers are made fresh, twice a day, and they’re grilled; they’re not made in a skillet.