By Daniel Human
Tribune staff writer
Kokomo — When Carol and Mike Wills noticed an unoccupied business at the corner of Defenbaugh and Webster streets, they decided it was time to introduce Kokomo to the pulled pork they’d been serving in Burlington.
“A lot of people just were saying ‘We don’t get out to Burlington for your pulled pork,’” said Carol Wills, who also owns The Dinner Bell in Burlington with her husband.
They settled into a corner shop at 425. W. Defenbaugh St. and opened Hawg Heaven in March.
For Carol, it was a venture that took her back to the neighborhood she grew up in.
One of her most frequent customers, she said, is her mother, who lives just a few houses down from the corner barbecue joint.
Space is limited in the largely carry-out and delivery-based Hawg Heaven, which can accommodate about a dozen sit-down customers. So the restaurant ships the barbecue to Kokomo from Burlington every day.
The Dinner Bell serves as the starting point for food preparation before sending it over to Kokomo, where Wills has decorated her business to show off the other type of “hawg” in her life — Harley-Davidson motorcycles.
In Burlington, the food undergoes an almost day-long barbecue process.
Meat starts with a coating of dry rub, the ingredients for which Wills keeps secret.
Pork shoulders — used for the top-selling “pork sammie” pulled pork sandwich — spend 18 hours slow cooking over cindering applewood from Farlow Orchard near Russiaville.
Once cooked, the meat travels the roughly 15 miles to Kokomo, where Hawg Heaven reheats the food for customers.
The pork has such a dedicated following that Hawg Heaven also sells it in bulk for $7.99 a pound.
Other sandwich options include brisket, prime rib, smoked chicken salad and Cubans, which have pulled pork, ham and Swiss cheese.
For platter selections, diners can choose from pork, brisket or ribs, each of which comes with two side dishes.
The restaurant tries to vary its sandwiches as much as possible. Each meat choice comes with its own bread type, such as ciabatta buns for brisket versus croissants for chicken salad. That way, people keep coming back, Wills said.
“People that are coming in are coming in and they’re coming in,” she said.
Wills emphasized her restaurant’s homemade sides almost as much as the sandwiches and ribs.
“You’ve got to have good coleslaw and you’ve got to have good baked beans,” she said matter-of-factly.
The coleslaw, a creamy style, is Wills’ mother’s recipe. The beans get a flavor tweak with pulled pork mixed in. Or customers can choose chunky applesauce, tropical fruit, green beans or “dirty” chips.
Business has gone well for the barbecue sandwich shop, well enough for Wills to consider extending hours later to better grab a dinner crowd.
She has already begun planning for the Kokomo Rib Fest, the annual fundraiser for the Carver Community Center.
The competition should not be much of an issue, she believes.
She summarized another restaurant’s menu with two words: “They’re gross.”
• Daniel Human is the Kokomo Tribune business reporter. He can be reached at 765-454-8570 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.