Continuing our tie-in with The Beachcomber’s 15th anniversary in August. This issue, the spotlight shines on 20-year Destin resident Rikki Wheeler. “I wasn’t born here, but I got here as soon as I could,” she says. You can find her tending bar at Hog’s Breath in Destin every Tuesday and Saturday on the outside deck. Go see her—you’ll find lots of Pokémon there.
1. Where do you currently call home?
Destin. I live in the old part of town way off 98.
2. Where did you grow up, and how did you end up here?
I was raised in Coos Bay, Oregon. I’ve never really grown up, but from there I moved to Reno, Nevada. From Reno, I moved to Montana, where I started my balloon business—I dressed up in costumes and delivered balloon bouquets. I jumped out of a cake once. Then I moved to Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where I continued with the balloon business—I became the “Balloonatic” there and got into decorating for big events. In 1995, I moved to Destin—I had rolled my car on black ice in Montana and said, No more winters!
3. How did you get into slinging drinks?
I started at Damon’s in Fort Walton Beach, then went to Sharktooth in Destin, Buffalo’s Reef and some other places. I landed at Hog’s Breath eight years ago. I looked into doing the balloon thing here, but it’s too hot for costumes. If I ever get out of bartending, I might get into gift baskets and call myself “The Basket Case.”
4. What do you think attracts people to Destin and the surrounding areas?
I think it’s the small community feel. What really attracts me to Hog’s Breath is it’s where the locals go. Of course, the scenery here doesn’t suck!
5. What do you like to do for fun?
I drink heavily (laughs). I take my work seriously. I have to go home and practice. I’m a foodie, love to eat. And I play on the computer for endless hours, mostly slots and Facebook.
6. What are some local attractions you’d recommend to visitors that they might not know about?
My favorite place to go is the Destin Harbor to watch the fishermen bring in their catches. There are endless hours of entertainment down there. My favorite time to be there is October for the Destin Fishing Rodeo. When I worked down there, that was the best time to be on the docks. Listening to Bruce Cheves, the weighmaster.
7. What is a typical workday like for you?
It’s hell (laughs). No, it’s just fun to be there and make people feel good. I usually get there around 3 and—depending on the season—get home around 3 or 4 in the morning. Then I drink and get on the computer until about 8 or 9. It’s a vicious cycle.
8. You’re a huge supporter of one of our favorite charities, the Florida Lottery. What’s been your biggest windfall so far?
So far, about $1,000 on scratch tickets about three different times. I have a Powerball club and a Lotto club—they call me the Commish. If I hit a big jackpot, I’d love to go to the Grammys or the Emmys and just people watch.
9. What’s one of your biggest pet peeves?
Mean people. I look at my job like a kindergarten teacher—everyone has to play nice and share their toys or I put them on time out, also known as 86’ed.
10. How would you describe the clientele at Hog’s Breath?
What’s the line from “I Love This Bar” about prostitutes (laughs)? Just very friendly folks and very loyal.
11. Where do you like to travel for vacations?
Usually back home to Idaho and Oregon to see family. I like to go to Biloxi. I have a trip planned for around the end of the month. Hard Rock is my favorite. I have my own casino host there. She always texts me—Where are you? I like to zone out on the slots mostly.
12. What are some of your favorite Beachcomberland spots to eat, drink and shop?
I love Boshamps. The food is delicious, and the view is just the bomb. My favorite drinking spot is my veranda, my porch, my carport. My favorite drink is the Hog Snort at Hog’s Breath—it has coconut rum, blue curacao, pineapple juice, sour mix and a whole lotta love. For shopping I love Beall’s, Stein Mart and any mom and pop kind of shop.
13. Who are some of your favorite Beachcomberland musicians?
Flash Flood, of course. Austin Jennings, Brandon Day, Bo Adams, Billy Garrett. And anytime Chris Manson comes up and sings his bacon song. We have such an array of great talent here. I know I’m forgetting someone. Can you extend this article an extra page?
14. If you could time travel forward or back for a week, where would you go?
I would go to the Roaring ‘20s. I would be a madam or gangster of some sort. I love the costumes—my love of that came from my days in the balloon business.
15. The Beachcomber’s 15th anniversary is coming up in August. How are you planning to celebrate this momentous occasion?
I’m turning 55 on August 19, so cheers to us both!
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