When people think of Halifax, Nova Scotia, they have images of amazing waterfront views of the harbour and feasting of some of the finest seafood the world has to offer. However, we think that one trip to Boneheads BBQ will get residents and visitors alike coming to the city craving some kickin’ southern bar-b-que at Halifax’s Original Smokehouse BBQ Joint
Often referred to as ‘Halifax’s hidden gem,’ customers feel like they’ve been transported to the southern region of the United States where barbeque connoisseurs embrace their passion for this form of cooking that features a distinctive smoky tasting meat.
Spotlight magazine recently had the pleasure of interviewing Cindy Wheatley, owner of this popular barbeque restaurant.
Wheatley’s love of barbeque stems from road trips she took with her mother when she was growing up. She says she quickly became fascinated by the world of barbeque. In fact, she still has the backyard oil drum smoker that she purchased years ago when her interest was first peaked.
With a background in the bar industry and an entrepreneurial spirit, Wheatley has learned everything she knows from first-hand experience. From her first job at 14 years old when she worked in a fish and chips shop, to serving at the bar her mother owned, to working as a restaurant general manager, Wheatley always dreamed of one day opening her own place.
That dream came to fruition when Wheatley officially opened the doors to Boneheads BBQ on January 9, 2010, bringing to life her vision of bringing authentic barbeque to her hometown of Halifax.
Spotlight was very curious to know how the smokehouse got its name. Wheatley laughed as she shared the story of how the name originated. She considered a variety of names, but nothing really stood out. Then one day she was talking to a friend and telling him about her plans to open a restaurant. He responded, “You’d have to be a bonehead to start a restaurant these days.” Wheatley knew immediately that she had found the perfect name for her business.
Boneheads’ location at 1014 Barrington Street caters to a diverse customer base. Situated in a highly concentrated area of universities, the smokehouse services many students, but also attracts a wide variety of BBQ loving patrons who live and work in the area as well as tourists seeking out a delicious Southern meal. Wheatley selected the location for its vibrant neighborhood and its proximity to downtown to service tourists, businesses, students, and locals alike.
Boneheads is committed to cooking in true, authentic Southern barbeque style. Their secret is cooking with nice hardwood, at low heat, with “a whole lotta patience.” Wheatley shared with us that, “Proper smokehouse bar-b-que is a slow process, this style of cooking demands up to a full day of cooking to produce meat that is moist, tender and full of smoky flavour.”
Wheatley is proud to share that the beef and the ingredients in the food served at Boneheads is all locally sourced as much as possible. Wheatley is committed not only to using only fresh ingredients, but also to helping support local suppliers. There is a culture in Nova Scotia that shares and embraces this commitment and the allure of sourcing local draws the support of the community in which the business operates.
Wheatley tells us that while her business is thriving that, “It took a while for customers to embrace the concept of Southern barbeque-style counter service. Customer’s associated counter service with fast food and the expectation of cheap food, no one expected they would be served some of the best BBQ in Canada.” Wheatley says that she has noticed when talking to her customers that people are more educated now and are more interested in what goes on behind the scenes. People from across the province as well as tourists are ‘jonesing’ for delicious brisket or ribs from a local spot when travelling. Wheatley is so grateful for how her patrons from Halifax and beyond have embraced her business and shown their loyalty. She is committed to giving back to the community whenever possible.
Wheatley is proud to share that her staff loves working at Boneheads. She employs eight core full and part time employees with an additional three to four employees joining during the busy peak summer season. Wheatley believes that Boneheads’ staff’s passion for their work is derived from the laid-back culture that she has instilled and the way everyone is encouraged to be a part of the bigger picture by offering ideas and new ways of doing business. She believes and shares that, “Being in a business for an extended time can cause owners to get ‘tunnel vision’ so to avoid that, I am always receptive to hearing and investing in new ideas from my team.”
Boneheads has evolved over the years to include a successful catering service that includes pick-up, delivery, set-up service and on-site catering. Boneheads will cater events up to 200 people and will travel within an hour of Halifax. Everything is prepared at the restaurant and transported in the catering van so that Wheatley can be sure that the ‘integrity of food’ is preserved. Be sure to check out the catering menu at lickthebone.com or for more information email firstname.lastname@example.org. All inquiries are answered directly by owner Cindy Wheatley herself.
Although there are always challenges and ‘fires to put out’ when owning a business, Wheatley says, “Boneheads has always been able to pivot in response to change.” The Covid pandemic has affected the business by reducing staff to the lowest number since the restaurant opened, but customer cravings for BBQ and loyalty to Boneheads has ensured that takeout and delivery has remained strong. There has been no dine-in service since the end of March due to space limitations however, Wheatley looks forward to reopening the dining room and seeing her customers in person again when it is safe to do so.
Wheatley also hopes that the future holds the opportunity for Boneheads to take part in official barbeque competitions, with their fiercely competitive participants, which are very common in the United States. She tells us that “Being a certified judge at a Kansas City barbeque competition was a life changing experience.” Her hope is that someday these competitions come to the Maritimes.
Also in the works are ideas for a second location with counter only, take out service. We are sure that the sky is the limit for this kickin’ southern smokehouse. Proudly voted ‘best ribs in Halifax’ since 2010, Wheatley is appreciative of this honour, but can’t help but encourage her customers to try her favourite item on the menu, the brisket.
Whether it be Boneheads best-selling pulled pork, beef brisket, smoked chicken or any of their delicious sides, you will not be disappointed by whatever you select from their expansive menu.
We at Spotlight on Business Magazine are eager to visit again soon for some down-home BBQ. It just doesn’t get any better, just remember to have lots of napkins cause your going to get your hands messy.
by Christi Rideout