It’s 5:30 a.m. in Albuquerque, New Mexico and Tim Harris is awake and preparing for his short walk to work. Promptly at 7:00, he will open the doors to welcome another round of happy guests to his small diner. Many will choose from the simple Southwestern dishes that fill the menu. But all are sure to leave with the one item that everyone seems to order — a free hug from Tim.

Welcome to Tim’s Place.

Opened in 2010, Tim’s Place Restaurant offers a relaxed, family atmosphere and no-frills home-style cooking. Billed as the “World’s Friendliest Restaurant,” the local eatery serves as a destination for individuals from all walks of life, attracting hungry visitors and bringing them back for more.

“My favorite part of the workday is giving out the free Tim Hugs,” says Tim. “They are on my menu and most people order at least one.” So far, he has given out more than 70,000 “Tim Hugs,” a number he keeps track of with a large digital counter on the wall. “I guess you can say I’m a lean, mean, hugging machine.”

Besides being known for its friendly dining, Tim’s Place holds one other notable distinction: It is one of the first and only restaurants to be owned by a person with Down syndrome.

Meet Tim Harris.

“I was born in January of 1986. A few hours after I was born, our doctor told my parents that I had Down syndrome,” shares Tim. “A lot of people told my parents that they were very, very sorry. I guess they didn’t know then just how totally awesome I would turn out to be.”

For Tim, being awesome meant owning his own restaurant. At 16, he started working at a local Applebee’s after school, trying out everything from dishwasher to host. Following high school, Tim made the difficult decision to move three hours away to Roswell to attend Eastern New Mexico University. There, he would acquire the skills needed to fulfill his dream.

Two years later Tim was opening the doors to his new restaurant. His dad, Keith Harris, provided the initial investment and hired the staff. But it’s Tim’s friendly service that brings the people in. Tim is the front man — and the genius behind it all.

Most days, he can be found stationed at the front door, ready to greet hungry patrons with a smile and a warm hug, many with challenges of their own.

“Sometimes customers get sad; I give them a hug and they feel a lot better,” explains Tim. “My hugs are way more important than the food,” he says, laughing. “The food is just food!”

Tim knows what we all must learn — that “the food is just food.” His customers can go anywhere to satisfy their hunger, but what they return for is something that will feed their soul. Here there are no membership cards. No high-tech loyalty tracking. Everyone gets the full “Tim treatment.” Where genuine care and unconditional acceptance is the order of the day, for Tim, hugs are simply a measure of success.

We, too, must look beyond the utility of what we offer to the real people we come to serve. For behind the hugs is the secret to what customers love: a human connection that unites us all.

What are you feeding your customers?