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A Tough Sell in Bridgeport, Husky Hog Has 'Bigger, Badder' Future Plans

By Ed Komenda | December 17, 2015 5:45am
 Customers line up to meet Joe Woodel at his restaurant Husky Hog on Nov. 25, the BBQ shop's last day in business.
Customers line up to meet Joe Woodel at his restaurant Husky Hog on Nov. 25, the BBQ shop's last day in business.
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DNAinfo/Ed Komenda

BRIDGEPORT — On the day before Thanksgiving, Joe Woodel served up the last batch of lunch orders to a line of loyal customers at Husky Hog BBQ.

The corner eatery at 335 W. 31st St., inspired by Woodel’s hit food truck, was closed the next day, soon replaced by another roving restaurant on wheels looking to get into the brick-and-mortar game: Gino’s Steak Truck.

Before closing, Woodel gave the neighborhood short notice. He hopped on Twitter and confirmed suspicions that the Hog was really on the move.

"The rumors are true ... Husky Hog BBQ is relocating," a tweet said. "The new location is yet to be released."

But Woodel recently chatted with DNAinfo Chicago and shared insight into the sudden shuttering, a decision that followed four profitless years in the BBQ business.

“I made no money for four years,” Woodel said. “That four years was my master’s degree in business. I went from having a smoker in my yard to running a restaurant.”

With his wife Lauren, Woodel quietly opened Husky Hog in July 2014. The menu offered all the succulent BBQ meals featured on the food truck: pork, chicken, brisket and burnt ends. On the side, you could get mac and cheese, collard greens and baked beans.

Though he had a loyal cast of regulars in Bridgeport, Woodel said, there weren’t enough of them.

Husky Hog never became the hit the BBQ boss hoped it would.

The neighborhood wanted a place to grab a quick lunch fix. Woodel wanted to create artful dishes — "something special," said Woodel, who intended to use the space on 31st Street as a cooking studio where he could experiment with new recipes and prepare for BBQ competitions.

By the end of an average month at Husky Hog, Woodel had enough money to cover rent, bills and payroll. He never had leftovers to pay himself a salary.

“When we went into this,” Woodel said, “I told my wife we would make zero money for at least three years. We both agreed that would be fine."

After a fourth year of workweeks exceeding 100 hours, Woodel decided it was time to find a new path. “I needed a break,” he said from his home in Rogers Park.

By the end of his time in Bridgeport, Woodel broke even.

The restaurant’s closing had everything to do with its location, Woodel said: “We were around a baseball field and people were looking for quick stuff. I reached a plateau for what the neighborhood wanted."

The neighborhood will tell you if they want you by showing up or not, Woodel said.

After spending more than a year running a BBQ restaurant on a stretch of road where locals frequent in-and-out joints like Maxwell Street and Fabulous Freddies, Woodel soon realized he needed to close up.

The Southern-styled chef hopes Gino's Steaks does better than he did.

"Man, I hope them the best," Woodel said. "I hope Philly cheesesteaks take off in the neighborhood."

Woodel has spent that last few weeks catching up on sleep and reading cookbooks, excited about what the future might hold for the Husky Hog — even if that future is far from Bridgeport.

"We have a couple of different things in the works,“ he said. "We’ll come back bigger and badder.”

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