Patrons of Hog Wild BBQ and Smokehouse in Solon Springs were treated to an unusual sight Aug. 28: An empty table, 13 glasses of beer and a list of names.
Pat and Jessica Warren of Spooner set up the empty table to honor the 13 U.S. service members who were killed at the Kabul, Afghanistan, airport days before while evacuating people to safety. They included $100 for Hog Wild as rent for the table.
Pat Warren said he was inspired after learning about a similar tribute a buddy in California had done.
“I just told my wife, you know, ‘Let’s do this tonight at Hog Wild,’” Pat Warren said.
The couple have become regulars at the Solon Springs establishment, stopping by most Saturday nights for the “fricking amazing” food and awesome staff. Although neither is a veteran, they have a family history of service.
Pat Warren’s grandfather served in the Air Force and his grandmother was in the Navy. His nephew and oldest brother are currently serving.
The tribute, sponsored by Jessica Warren’s business, Fuel Lab Nutrition, wasn’t politically-motivated.
“I’ve never been really political. I’ve always stayed out of the whole political stuff … Just with everything going on, it just kind of makes me appreciate more the freedoms I do have, and that’s because of the men and women who do fight for that,” said Pat Warren, who works for Republic Services.
Hog Wild co-owner Kim Kastern was working prep in the back room when the table was set. Initially confused, she went up and read the names.
“And then I started with tears,” she said.
She wasn’t the only one who appreciated it.
“There was clapping ... It was a huge gesture and there were tears in my restaurant,” Kastern said.
Despite large weekend crowds, she left the tribute up all weekend, pouring fresh beers for Sunday.
“We have a flag on our wall in our bar for a reason,” Kastern said. “We believe in our constitution. We believe in our military. We believe in our country.”
Another patron that night, a Navy veteran who had served in Afghanistan, donated an additional $100 toward the empty table. Kastern said the funds from the tribute will go to Warriors Ride, a Poplar-based organization that started 11 years ago. The annual ATV run raises money to support local veterans and their families.
Kastern also posted a picture of the Spooner couple with their tribute on the restaurant’s Facebook page.
“I’m not a big fan of that, because I didn’t do it to, you know, be recognized or anything like that,” Pat Warren said. “My wife and I did it to remember the ones who are dying.”
They’ve been overwhelmed by how many views and likes the Facebook post about the tribute has received.
"I was actually pretty blown away by it," he said.
The couple visited Hog Wild again Sept. 3. This time, Warren ordered a trio of shots in red, white and blue. A number of patrons joined him.
“It’s united we stand ... and without us being united, you know, we’re never going to be able to stand and support and appreciate what we have here compared to other countries,” Warren said. “It’s a real easy gesture just to thank a vet, thank a serviceman or woman, you know. Even the small things — a simple thank you goes a long ways.”