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SAN DIEGO – Friends and family of Mike “Bossman” Hardin, late owner of iconic burger joint Hodad’s, welcomed the community to Petco Park’s Park in the Park downtown Saturday for a free event to pay him tribute.

In early February, Hardin, 56, died of a heart attack in Chowchilla, Calif., on his way to visit his daughter in Oregon.

Hardin’s parents opened the original restaurant in Ocean Beach in 1969. He became a neighborhood fixture and was known as “Bossman,” which he had tattooed onto his knuckles.

But on Saturday during a celebration involving a tribute video and live music performances, he was remembered for more than the delicious burgers he served up — he was memorialized for his big heart.

A Navy chaplain described the first of many times Hardin showed up overseas to serve deployed service members. He and his friends traveled for years to bring a taste of home to the deployed through a nice, juicy burger.

“For three glorious days, we were not only the most legendary ship in the Navy, we were the happiest ship in the Navy,” Chaplain John Owen said.

As others got up to speak one by one, they each described Hardin with different words, but all had a similar message: It seems the man just had a way with people.

“I’ve had people share with me that Mike sometimes looked scary when you first met him, but he always made people look beyond the outside and see what a big heart he had within minutes of meeting him and that was Mike,” Hardin’s former wife Robin Hardin-Bailey said.

Music played and pictures took over the screen in the park while memories filled the hearts of attendees.

“He was so easygoing,” Hardin’s son Shane said.

It was one of the reasons people loved him. His now-grown children, Shane and Lexi, said he taught them to be easygoing too.

Celebrity chef Guy Fieri was a close friend of Hardin’s. They met years ago on Fieri’s show, “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.”

When it was his turn to take the podium, Fieri listed dozens of words that came to his mind to describe Hardin.

“There’s so many other words that help explain Mike. I want you to think about these words for a second, because they’ll touch each and every one of us in a different way,” Fieri said as he began listing words.

Among the words he chose were appreciative, respect and love.

But for Fieri, it boiled down to one word that mattered most.

“Friend is a deep word. Friend is all of those words coming together and Mike was that. And Mike was a friend in any capacity: if he just met you, if he knew you or he was your dad…he was your friend,” Fieri said as he hugged Hardin’s son.

To his children and stepchildren, it was a different word that mattered most: love.

“It’s awesome, there’s so much love. It’s just love. I’m wrapped up in it,” Shane said.

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