Whole Hog Heaven Throws in the Bib

An email from the owners of Whole Hog Heaven in Waconia, MN declares that after 18 months of operation, the end is nigh: “Our fight is now over and it’s impossible to have long term goals and continue to operate.” [Thanks to Ed]


  1. Kathy O'Neil - Owner

    Thank you very much – I find it extremely amazing that while we were begging for food critics from everywhere for the past 18 months to at least give us a glimpse and try our food because it is so damn good — no one had the time for us. Now that we are publishing bad news you’re are right on it. CONGRATULATIONS. Thanks for supporting the small businesses who are struggling. You have no issues with pumping up the chains and franchises, perhaps they pay something ‘under’ that restaurant table that us little guys can’t. It was very frustrating we only got a mention in TC Metro and a couple radio stations, each time we got new customers who ended up being repeat customers. What does that say? We got stellar comments on our Brisket, Ribs, Pulled Pork that they matched up with anything from Texas, KC, Memphis; it’s very sad we didn’t get more of a chance. Now banks are hoarding all the money and not loaning to us little guys, all the SBA funding that is being touted for helping us ‘smallies’ always has a loop hole that some how we just don’t qualify. So we have no alternative. Sincerely, Kathy O’Neil – As I’ve always said “You’ll LOVE our RACKS”

  2. sd

    Maybe Ms. O’Neil should have sat on that note a few days until her anger passed, rather than committing it to the cosmos forevermore.

    As good as the food may have been at WHH, it remains that the restaurant was located a good drive away from even third-tier suburbs in the southwest metro (never mind the rest of us Cities dwellers). And, as I recall, a year or so ago, gasoline was closing in on $4 a gallon, a damper for people driving anywhere. WHH also was attempting to make a go of it during an economically trying time that has closed many another restaurant, even some “media darlings.”

    But I suppose none of that makes any difference to Ms. O’Neil. It must have been a conspiracy that closed WHH.

  3. Ed Kohler

    Location definitely played a role in my lack of visits to this place. My office is in the SW suburbs, but is still 40 minutes each way from Waconia. Restaurants in Delano, Hugo, River Falls, or Cannon Falls will also have a hard time getting much press from Minneapolis based media sites.

    While it may seem unfair, it’s clearly easier to write a 1-paragraph blog post quoting a company’s own press release than to find 3 hours to visit.

  4. Kathy O'Neil - Owner

    Trade places (how would you feel) – worked for 2 yrs on a plan, just the two of us to begin something we are passionate about, put everything on the line, open April 2008 and 7 months later the economy is in a downward spiral- Who would have known that?!! Yes, location, gas prices last year, etc. If our food was bad this wouldn’t hurt so much.
    Don’t spin my words (conspiracy) I’m only saying what actually happened, we didn’t get enough exposure, the bottom line is it’s tough for the little guy.

  5. Geoff

    There is a particular yin and yang balancing act / duality in being the owner AND operator of a restaurant. Some folks have the skills to operate a restaurant over the daily grind, and some have the ability to read a P&L and change accordingly as an owner. However, a select few can do both effectively simultaneously over the long haul.

    So, in order to address your “how would you feel” question…I would hold tight to the satisfaction that comes from a job well done as a restaurant operator. I would feel that I put forth a noble effort, that I fought the good fight, and that the blood sweat and tears that I expended making great food made my customers happy.

    But I would also always feel, in the back of mind, that I must have made some fundamentally poor business decisions, and that my efforts as a restaurant operator were nullified by my lack of vision as a restaurant owner.

  6. gromit


    Suggesting that chains and franchises might be paying “under the table” for local media exposure is a pretty convincing example of a conspiracy theory. I realize you’re writing out of frustration, but your comments as they relate to Heavy Table seem wildly off the mark and aren’t particularly endearing.


  7. ecc

    The reason most businesses fail is lack of capital. The way chain businesses have skewed our perception is that the remote parent can prop up unprofitable businesses for a long time, if they believe the business will ultimately succeed – or if they believe the land is more valuable than the business and they want to profit from the sale of the land down the line. An independent business does not have access to that kind of capital, period. Yes, bad management can doom a business. Of course, obsurity can, too. But every business is going to have downturns. If there’s not enough money in the bank, through investors or on a line of credit, the business won’t survive the downturn. And, as above, an independent business does not have many options for capital right now. It’s a recipe for heartbreak for many, many hardworking, talented people with vision and for the people who have enjoyed the fruits of their labor. I’m sorry to hear about Whole Hog Heaven.

  8. Geoff


    I currently do neither. I work solely in hospitality marketing, as it suits my current lifestyle needs. However, I have done both the owner and operator gigs extensively, and at times simultaneoulsy. Have I done them well / successfully? I certainly believe I have, and I know that the majority of my bosses / employees / guests would resoundingly say yes.

  9. Brian

    “But I would also always feel, in the back of mind, that I must have made some fundamentally poor business decisions, and that my efforts as a restaurant operator were nullified by my lack of vision as a restaurant owner”

    You have no clue what what we did, who we consulted, or anything about us or our business. So to cut off the bickering on this I will leave it at that.


  10. A Frequent Customer

    I am very sorry to hear that Whole Hog Heaven is no longer going to be a choice here in the western suburbs. The food was very good and the owners are wonderful warm people! I don’t know them personally but can tell by how they treat every customer.

    They had a dream and did what they could to make it a successful reality. More of us should have the courage to do just that! Having watched the owners in the restaurant, I have no doubt that they did everything they could to make this work including consulting the necessary business experts.

    I do hope that Brian and Kathy will consider continuing catering if that makes business sense. You will be missed!

  11. Victoria Customer

    We live in Victoria and our family visited WHH many times. We raved about it frequently and eventually our neighbors started ordering WHH takeout once every week or two. The food was terrific (nothing like it in the area in my opinion) and the people were very nice, whether it was the owners waiting on us or an 18 year old “kid”; it was never the big-brand stare-at-the-customer-till-they-order service.

    Having started a business of my own (sold to a partner) I commend them for having the courage to invest their money, blood, sweat and (likely) tears in a small business. Whether or not this store closure had 1% to do with the economy, or 99% is somewhat irrelevant to these folks, I’m certain.

    Personally, whether or not a food critic would have provided their stamp of approval on WHH or not, would not have mattered an ounce to us. In fact a few of our friends ripped on Lola’s when it first opened, yet we gave it a try – and fell in love with it. After hearing our reviews our friends are now regular Lola customers – chalking up their initial bad experience to start-up “bugs”. I think most business these days is generated due to referrals (in person, or online via social networking), versus food critics blessings. But then again, I’ve never run a restaurant!

    Without seeing WHH’s financials I would guess any lack of business was a result of a combination of things: 1) tough economy that is crippling most restaurants, 2) high gas prices for much of last year, as pointed out by another poster, 3) challenging location (a bit of a hike for us, and not in a high-traffic location; i.e. in the same center as Target or a big grocery story), and 4) lack of a well-known brand. Ironically, when I first came across WHH I asked my wife if it was a national franchise that I hadn’t encountered before – it was that well “packaged”. I’ll bet if the restaurant had been launched in 2002 or 2003 it would have flourished.

    I hope the owners didn’t suffer too much financially and they’re able to move on with their lives. You should keep your chins up. You had many fans that really thought you did a nice job w/the business.

  12. BBQ Lover

    I was just looking up the phone number for WHH and realized it closed. We loved it! Their food was superb and staff friendly. It’s time we stopped eating at these fast food chains and supported our local places.

  13. Waconia Customer

    My husband and I live in Waconia and everytime we pass the now closed WHH, we lament. We are bbq lovers and WHH was definitely top-notch bbq. Everything we tried, we loved, and we recommended it to everyone. The service was always exceptional and the food likewise. If you didn’t take the time or make the drive, you lost out-plain and simple.

    Kathy, I hope in the future and in a better economy, you’ll find yourself willing to try again. You guys are fantastic!

  14. Restaurant veteran

    WHH owners:
    As much as I can empathize with your “story”, your beliefs and writings are very telling as others have pointed out.
    Passion is a great motivator in beginning any venture but solid working capital, SOLID experience and flexibility are vital for success of any small business. You chose an industry with very difficult margins (plus the added burden of a protein heavy BBQ COG’S segment…sapping more potential earnings) From my understanding, you hung a nominal investment on the track record of a regional BBQ competition and a “research trip” to the NBBQA convention. Your food may have very well been the bomb and the greatest thing since famous Dave’s(not that his food is the best ‘que cuz it is not…), and you no doubt had some loyal fan’s, but without a solid food service background and proper working capital (paid advertising budget vs. reliance on the web or “critics choice awards” to prop up a solid business plan) you were destined to fail in a cruel and grueling business that does not care how hard or long you work. I am sorry you feel let down by the expanded community you believed you served. From looking at the financial realities( your sq footage/ apprx. rent…easily available online)you would have needed to do a pretty brisk walk-up trade plus huge catering revenues to not end up closing the doors. BBQ, regardless of how good it is, is very cyclical for customers and ANY restaurant business requires a steady stream of new customers and/or flexible marketing/menu options. This is how the big boy emporiums manage to make it. Independent restaurants (let alone specialized such as WHH) are like the local hardware stores… a dying breed.
    I speak the truth as I have lived it myself and wish you well in spite of what you think of the opinion’s contributors such as this(and others) have added. You opened the door unfortunately.

  15. Hungry for BBQ in Waconia

    I am a Waconia resident and was really disappointed when you closed up, as you were our favorite food to go out for in Waconia. Also wanted to say, back to the subject of getting food critics or media to cover you… I’ve worked at magazines for years, and typically they are short-staffed, underpaid, and honestly don’t have time in the day drive to every restaurant, etc. To get covered, it does work best to spin the story and write it in a way where they don’t have to really dig up to much. Even adding info about what else people could do while they are all the way out here in Waconia to go with it, or some sort of creative spin, can get an editors attention and spark a story idea. I’m sure there are editors that have the time to do this on their own, but in my experience the reality is they are terribly overworked, and as much as they would love to drive out to meet and eat, practically it just can’t happen, so anything you can do to make covering you easier, the better your chances are. And maybe you did do this, and they were just asleep at the wheel, because your food was definitely worth a drive!

  16. Kathy O'Neil - Owner

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write. We do miss the opportunity to serve up our BBQ for all you lovers out there. We are still catering and selling our secret BBQ Sauce online (web site currently being upgraded) stay tuned. BBQ season is just around the corner(graduations, weddings, parties)!!!!!

  17. dave

    I sorry to hear that you closed, we heard the rumar but could no believe it. We had to see if it was true, we would travel from Shakopee each weekend to have one of your pulled pork large, and beef brisket. My relatives and I would take a motorcycle ride each weekend and end up at your place for lunch. You will be truley missed.I understand your frustration I too own a small business, and can”t get any help. But I am still wearing my WHH T-shirt. I still dream about your food. Thank you. Dave from Shakopee

  18. dave

    I’m sorry to say I live close by and didn’t even know there was a BBQ restaurant in Waconia.

  19. Gary

    I was in your restaurant one time and was not impressed at all!!
    Brian O’niel the owner was yelling at one of his mexican employee’s and seemed to have a bad temper, which made me feel very uncomfortable for myself and the employee working for him Mr. O’niel was very unprofessional to do that in front of a customer, however perhaps he did not see me standing there at that time but what a turn off!!
    Not to mention the food was way over priced for the quality of food they we’re serving…I am not surprised to see they went out of business!! Quite winning about your business going under and realize that you did us here in Waconia all a favor!
    Move on Brian and Kathy O’niel and get a real job, you are not qualified to be business owners at all and you are making fools out of yourselves posting on here gripping about your loss WHO CARES!!! I have been a business owner myself for years and would never treat my customers or employee’s the way you have, that is what really put you under besides no capital funds to exist on.
    Anotherwards no perfessionlism!!

  20. Brian

    I have not been on this site for a long time, but someone mentioned this comment and I felt that I needed to reply. I hope as a business owner you have spell check or a great admin. I suspect this was written by a bitter ex-employee. I did have one Hispanic employee, that to this day is considered a friend that we get together with. It offends me that someone would try to create friction where there is none. So “Gary” get a life and let it go. One last comment, to “Restaurant veteran” thank you for your input. I wish we could have sat down before we opened and had this conversation. Your comments were very accurate, eye-opening, and appreciated.

  21. angela

    My husband was obsessed with this place and has been lost since it closed…… craving the delicious bbq they served.

    I know they do catering etc…. where can I find this information? I need to have them cater a made up event (I’ll figure out some reason to have a party just so my husband can have his favorite bbq).

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