In the 1700s the word entrepreneur entered our vocabulary, meaning adventurer. The meaning has been honed over the centuries and is now widely regarded as one who launches and runs a new business. However, entrepreneurs remain adventurers at heart, taking on great risks based on an idea or expertise one has developed in hopes of making a profit. In some cases, it’s a business they make from scratch. In other cases, the entrepreneur takes over a business and makes it their own. That’s the case here, with Donnie Schoenrock, an adventurer from Jackson.
In 2016, Donnie Schoenrock turned in his badge for an apron. Relinquishing the title of Law Enforcement Officer and diving into his new role as owner of Kat’s Hog Heaven in Jackson.
“I moved to Jackson in 2006 to work for the Jackson Police Department,” explains Schoenrock. “I was involved in law enforcement for almost a decade. While I was growing up, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen with my mom. I was always cooking or baking. In my teenage years, my mom fulfilled her dream of starting a traveling concession stand called ‘Fry Babies.’ It featured Navajo tacos, which is a staple menu item we have at Kat’s Hog Heaven today. My mom’s dream was to have several food trucks and ultimately a restaurant, but unfortunately, she eventually sold the business. I would have loved for my mom to see my restaurant today. We lost her to cancer in 2010, but I know she would have been so proud to have a restaurant in the family.”
It was his mother’s memory perhaps that nudged him when he was approached to buy Kat’s Hog Heaven.
“Kat’s Hog Heaven was originally opened by Bill and Kat Stephen of Jackson. They started in a concession stand and eventually moved into the current building. After operating it for a few years, they decided it was time to retire and sell. One day, Bill asked me if I was interested in buying it. Of course I thought he was kidding, however, after meeting with him on Sunday afternoons for several months, we shook hands and a deal was made. I took ownership of Kat’s Hog Heaven in December of 2016,” says Schoenrock.
After purchasing Kat’s Hog Heaven, Schoenrock knew he didn’t want to totally rebrand. As the saying goes, ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it’. So he kept the name, but added his own recipes – and his mom’s – into the mix. The formula has been successful.
“I may be biased, but I believe we have some of the best food and service in the area. We have a unique menu of mainly pork, however, we do serve a great steak or chicken upon request. All of our meat is hand-selected, hand-cut, and freshly ground. We use the low-and-slow method of roasting with our homemade BBQ rub. Additionally, Jackson is located within a large pork producing county. All of the growers and employees of the industry are great customers, and always happy to support their finished product,” says Schoenrock.
Location has also been critical to his success.
“We are located on the beautiful main street of downtown Jackson, with the Des Moines River running outside our back door. We are on the same block as the incredible Historic State Theatre, which is deserving of a visit just in itself. Jackson is a quaint, seemingly unremarkable small-town off of I-90, but can surprise with its variety of establishments and events throughout the year. We are also home to one of the top sprint car tracks in the country, the Jackson Motorplex. Kat’s also features Ellefson Coffee, which is owned by the legend David Ellefson of the band Megadeth. David is a native of Jackson and will be making another stop to see us this summer. It’s an honor to have people choose to detour to our restaurant and, subsequently, be delighted by our small town,” he says.
While busy is good, Schoenrock has had to learn time management. In fact, he says it’s been one of his biggest challenges.
“The biggest hurdle I face as an entrepreneur is that of time management,” he explains. “Making sure you balance the time needed for the business to be successful while also balancing time for your family and other activities in your life. A restaurant is like a child that needs all of your attention all of the time. If left unattended, even for a short time, terrible things can happen. Being present is key.
“The hours are long, and usually spent on your feet. Every day is stressful with wondering how many customers will walk through the door, did all of the necessary tasks get completed on time, will anything break down today, etc. Another big challenge is staying relevant and consistent to ensure each customer will be a return customer.”
The rewards, he admits, far outweigh the challenges.
“I could have never imagined I would have built the relationships and friendships I have through this business. I have people who I consider nothing short of family. They call me, pray for me, and just stop in to say ‘hi’. I wouldn’t have Kat’s without them, and throughout this process I have built friendships that will last a lifetime.”
And that is Schoenrock’s message to other entrepreneurs: embrace the relationships that come along with the business.
“To others thinking of entering this industry, I would say, it’s not just a restaurant, it’s a community. It’s important to be involved and give back. Volunteer, serve on a community committee, and support other local businesses. If you take care of your community, they will take care of you. Lastly, listen. Everyone has an opinion and all of them are valuable. Listen to their successes and their failures. Learn from them and use them to your advantage. While there will certainly be bad days, they will never outshine the pride and self-worth you acquire by owning and operating your own business.”
Kat’s Hog Heaven
608 2nd Street
Jackson, MN 56143
Phone: (507) 847-2572