Mesa knows BBQ, particularly when it comes from trucks painted with a jolly hog wearing a chef’s hat. The smell of the Waldo’s BBQ smoker in city parades is a staple of patriotic holidays. The pig’s delicious wares have spread across the state, and the man behind it gives as much energy to Waldo’s as the grinning mascot.
Frank Estadt, owner of Waldo’s, is a transplant from Florida. He majored in English at Duke University, hoping to teach. While a student teacher, he realized he didn’t love the work as expected. He applied his degree another way, taking a copy-editing position in Arizona when he was just 22.
The opportunities here were more than he could have foreseen. With time on his hands in the evenings, he took a second job waiting tables. That choice led to a much-improved social life. Among his friends from the restaurant was a young woman who later became his wife. Not too shabby for a second job!
He and another friend caught a stronger interest in the restaurant business.
“One of my buddies and me,” he remembers, “thought we’d be partners and did that eventually. Bought Isabella’s in 2003.” They did well in their partnership, later selling for three times what they’d paid. After that success, Frank recalls, “I was looking to get into something bigger, and that’s part of what brought me to Waldo’s.”
Frank joined Waldo’s as manager. He worked closely with Clay Caldwell, later becoming a partner.
“We made good partners,” says Frank, “because Clay’s a great idea man. He taught me to have ideas and try them all, see which one sticks. Don’t be too sad about ones that don’t work.”
When hired in 2005, Frank applied his strength in fiscal management. Recognizing Frank’s influence on the bottom line, Clay gave him more control of the restaurant.
“It can be tough to turn your baby over to someone,” Frank says, and Clay gave the whole project over when he retired.
Waldo’s has grown under Frank’s ownership. He reflected on his experiences and how this industry is different than he expected. His first restaurant, he says, taught him the value of skilled workers – and to let those workers own their roles.
Owning a restaurant means “not to be so involved you’re the guy washing dishes,” he says. “If you’re always in your business, you don’t have time to work on your business.”
These days, Frank focuses on quality staff and expansion opportunities. The exciting project now is Waldo’s new Gilbert location on Williams Field and Val Vista, where weekday entertainment pairs with Waldo’s already excellent food into a lively, family-friendly social hub.