Local restaurant fills gap left by idled Weary Wil’s


Brina Sturm

Hungry students await their food from Shorty’s Hot Box, a local business operating in the Weary Wil’s Union space Sunday through Wednesday.

Allison Bruns, Reporter

Shorty’s Hot Box will be open Sundays through Wednesdays from 4 to 8 p.m. in the former Weary Wil’s Sports Grille until April 27. 

The restaurant is offering extended hours after a successful trial run in the Student Union location. 

The ongoing employee shortage last semester led to the partnership between South Dakota State University and the local business. SDSU’s catering partner, Aramark, reached out to Kim Dokken-Nelson, owner of Shorty’s Hot Box, after Weary Wil’s did not have the staff needed to open last fall, causing it to be closed all semester. Aramark and Shorty’s decided to partner, but with the Shorty’s adding its own personalized touch. 

Dokken-Nelson started in the Student Union location by opening several nights a week. She surveyed students to figure out what customers would like to see on the menu. She then expanded offerings based on requests. 

The new menu features burgers, a variety of sandwiches, chislic and wraps. They also offer appetizers such as cheese curds, fried pickles and onion petals, along with desserts like fried cheesecake, funnel cake fries and mini donuts. Shorty’s uses sustainable, recyclable to-go containers.

Emily Van Liere, a freshman early childhood education major from Madison, recently dined at Shorty’s Hot Box. She described the food as “very good” and that she will return to eat at the restaurant. 

“I liked that Shorty’s has different food than what is typically found on campus,” Van Liere said. “Although the wait was a little longer than the other places, it would be about the same if you went to a place like Cubby’s.” 

Freshman psychology major Shelby Higgason from Plankinton said she also had a pleasant experience eating at the restaurant and described her meal as “delightful.” She recommends students to give the restaurant a try. She visited the restaurant at a busy time but said “the staff handled the crowd perfectly.” 

Dokken-Nelson began her business career with KJ Lemonade Stand in 1995. The local business transformed into what is now known as Shorty’s Hot Box when she converted a food truck designed to serve at festivals and events. After being invited as a vendor at SDSU football games this past fall, Shorty’s gained popularity in the Brookings area. 

Dokken-Nelson has managed several Aramark locations on campus and also owned a bar and grill. Doug Wermedal, associate vice president for Student Affairs, played a role in aligning the business opportunity. He said he is confident in Dokken-Nelson’s capabilities. 

“We knew from football vending that she had the operating expertise,” Wermedal said.

Dokken-Nelson said that knowing she is doing good for the students is her favorite part of the job. Despite being faced with many challenges along the way, she said she is passionate about creating a new eating place for students.

“This was an opportunity I had to try,” she said. “I love doing it.”

So far, Dokken-Nelson said she is pleased with customer turnout, and especially grateful for the patience that students have shown. She says that the job also has been a learning curve for her and that she and her staff strive for consistency for each individual order.

“As a business owner, I believe in producing the freshest product in the fastest time,” she said. 

This month, Dokken-Nelson hopes to have Starship delivery and Transact Mobile Order available and is interested in offering “late-night hours,” where students can order a limited number of menu items after 8 p.m. Looking ahead to the fall, the business is optimistic to return to campus.

SDSU is making the switch from Aramark to Sodexo food services July 1, and Wermedal said it is uncertain what contractual agreement will be approved with the restaurant. He said that a decision will likely be made before the spring semester ends. 

The university is “interested in having Weary Wil’s return, but with staff shortages, we may end up continuing with Shorty’s Hot Box,” Wermedal said. 

While the final desicions for the Union’s northwest corner are still undecided, Wermedal is satisfied with being able to partner with a local business. 

“It is great to have locally sourced food items that benefit a local entrepreneur with a retail opportunity,” Wermedal said.

Dokken-Nelson encourages customers to stay tuned for all that the business has to offer in the future. For social media updates, find them on Facebook at “Shorty’s Hot Box.”