Bud & Alley’s Celebrates Its 25th
By Bill Campbell
Iconic cities span the globe: Paris, Rio, Rome, London, and … your pick. And there are iconic cities in America: Boston, San Francisco, Santa Fe, New York, and … my pick—Seaside, Florida.
And, in keeping with that idea just a little longer, there are iconic places in Seaside: Modica Market, Sundog Books, and today’s subject, Bud & Alley’s. This palace of great food, impeccable service, unparalleled vistas, and fun receptions is celebrating twenty-five years in business—no small feat in an industry that sees 90 percent of its businesses fail in the first three years.
It’s been twenty-five years of passionate devotion for owner Dave Rauschkolb, a young man who came to these shores looking for a wave to ride. Well, he found it—but only in a metaphorical sense, for Bud & Alley’s is the wave most restaurateurs spend a lifetime chasing.
Dave found his wave not in the water but overlooking it. And if you haven’t watched a sunset from the second-floor bar, you are missing one of the true joys of life. You’re also missing a chance to ring an 1888 cast-iron bell, a Seaside tradition thanks to Bud & Alley’s. Notes Seaside founder Robert Davis, “Ringing in the sunset at Bud & Alley’s has become a treasured part of the day at Seaside. Dave has created much more than a restaurant. It is a place of memories. Generations of families have enjoyed meals there, celebrated a wedding or an anniversary, and toasted the simple pleasure of spending time together at the beach. I look forward to celebrating many more anniversaries with him.”
A newcomer to the restaurant is forgiven if he or she assumes the owners are Bud and Alley, but it is not so. Rather, Bud was the dachshund of the Seaside founder and Alley was—how could it be otherwise?—a cat. Alley belonged to Dave’s original partner, Scott Witcoski.
In 1985, Scott and Dave worked together at a fine-dining French restaurant in Destin named Les Saisons. (Robert Davis used to drive from Seaside to dine there because it was the best on the coast.) On a surfing trip to Panama City on a chilly fall day, the two detoured to Seaside at the behest of Robert, who spoke of his vision and asked them to open a restaurant in the little town. After a short walk, they arrived at the restaurant. A French eatery had been there before, but it had closed after just a year. Left behind was a fully equipped kitchen just waiting for someone adventurous.
Enter Scott and Dave. After brief contemplation, they jumped at the opportunity. Dave had a Wow! moment the first time he looked out the windows at the emerald waters of the Gulf. He quit college at the University of West Florida (in his last semester) the next day. Scott ran the kitchen as the founding chef and Dave ran the front of the house. And so the enduring partnership continued twenty years until Scott sold his interest to Dave in 2006 so that he could pursue his love of surfing, fishing, and art photography.
Scott and I became the best of friends through our love of surfing and food. We’re still the best of friends. I’d been an oyster shucker at the Oyster Shanty next to the original Hog’s Breath Saloon in Destin. Scott was a chef at Les Saisons, the first fine-dining experience around here.
It’s funny how life goes. For two years I’d been begging this little Mexican restaurant on Eglin Parkway to let me be the dishwasher. They always turned me down. So I ended up as a shucker and worked my way up to Les Saisons. I met Scott after catching some waves behind the Back Porch. He complimented me on my style and asked if I’d like to have lunch with him. The fact that he was with two beautiful German ladies didn’t complicate my answer.
They became great friends, and when Robert asked them about opening a restaurant at Seaside, Dave wondered if he could do that and still surf. They were twenty-four. Scott was uniquely suited to be the chef, and Dave, being a people person, took the front. They’re not just the best of friends; they’re different enough to make a great team.
The early days were testy. Notes Dave, “We had a big parking lot and few customers. Now, we have no parking lot and lots of customers.” Over the years, the parking lot disappeared and was transformed into retail space for Seaside where Dave could make the additions of the terrific Pizza Bar and the Taco Bar, the latter being home to some of the best salsas this side of New Mexico. It’s an understatement to say the Taco and Pizza bars are unique. They’re whatever the level above uniqueness is called.
Dave had always wanted to expand to where the taco restaurant is now. And when the opportunity came along, he was greeted with the serendipity that seems to follow him around. “Seaside’s then town architect, Leo Casas, was from San Diego and I turned to him saying I wanted complete authenticity. So we went to Southern California and visited about thirty taquerias. We noted the color combinations but, more important, we wanted complete authenticity in the kitchen. That’s why you’ll find no yellow cheese or hard shells. And we hold to the philosophy that has always guided us: fresh, fresh, fresh.”
“There had been a pizza restaurant here before but there was a fire,” added Dave. “Robert asked me if I’d be interested in opening one. At first, I thought ‘no,’ as I didn’t want to complicate my life further. But then I asked Leo again for advice. Turns out, he knows Italy, and especially Rome, front and back. So, ten days later we’re in Rome.”
“Again, we were looking for authenticity, and we found it. In fact, I flew a twenty-seven-year-old pizza master from A-16, one of the best Italian restaurants in San Francisco, to Seaside just to teach my staff how to make authentic Naples-style pizza. I wanted people to be able to have the Italian experience without having to fly to Italy. We’ve done that.”
But twenty-five years ago there wasn’t much out there. Today there are about a hundred eateries on Scenic Highway 30A. When Bud & Alley’s opened, there were five. Seaside consisted of a post office, an outdoor market, and about a dozen homes. But Scott and Dave’s dream prevailed, thanks to great vision and kind winds. Dave notes, “We named the place Bud & Alley’s because it was the perfect personification of what we would become: a casual, unpretentious eatery with great food.”
Yes, the original signage for the place showed a dog, a cat, and the words “Good Food, Good People, & Good Times.” They nailed it then, and it’s still nailed. In mid-May, Dave hosted a reception celebrating the silver anniversary. More than two hundred of the best and brightest attended, many of them “beautiful people,” which nicely counterbalanced the two journalists present. The food was ample and scrumptious, the weather bucolically perfect in that unique Seaside way, and the gathering abuzz with the sort of interesting conversation one doesn’t find at Walmart.
Dave noted that thousands of bussers, servers, cooks, and assistants have passed through Bud & Alley’s doors in the past quarter century, and that, in the summer, the eatery would be providing jobs to one hundred fifty people, a significant figure given today’s economy.
He also raised a toast to Grayton Pale Ale, a fine brew made especially for this area. It premiered at the party and drew great acclaim.
One attendee was Irv Miller, one of Bud & Alley’s original chefs. I met Irv after I wondered out loud in my column in the Northwest Florida Daily News what seviche was. (A reader had asked where to get it.) Being raised and educated in the Northwest, I’d never heard of it. So I shouted out and Irv called and said, “Come to Bud & Alley’s. I’ll make you some.”
I did. And he did. It was wonderful. And Irv, now the chef at Pensacola’s famed Jackson’s, showed for the anniversary party.
The reception, held outside on the patio, brought back many memories, not the least of which was a gathering about fifteen years ago to honor Edna Lewis, an elegant African-American women who was called the Grande Dame of Southern Cooking. She was also known as the South’s answer to Julia Child. Scott called me to see if my then-employer, the Northwest Florida Daily News, would be interested in sending the food editor to the event. I checked with my editor who was less than impressed, even after I told him the New York Times was flying in a team of three to cover the event. No soap. So I “covered” it myself. And a grand evening it was.
I arrived early, as—fortuitously—did Miss Lewis. The libations du jour were mint juleps, in honor of the Southern theme. This suited me fine, and armed with my first one I sought out this magnificent lady who had obviously arrived ahead of the locals. I introduced myself and we had a wonderful chat about her life, upbringing, and career. All too soon, the organizers arrived and she was led off to meet the Seaside notables. But I learned a great deal about Miss Lewis: she was the granddaughter of an emancipated slave; she spent time as a seamstress and once made a dress for Marilyn Monroe; and her career as a chef was started in New York, where her followers included William Faulkner, Marlon Brando, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Gloria Vanderbilt, and Marlene Dietrich. The more we talked the more I realized I was in the company of royalty. And it was all Bud & Alley’s fault.
Miss Lewis had gone on to publish many books about Southern cooking, including The Edna Lewis Cookbook, The Taste of Country Cooking, In Pursuit of Flavor, and The Gift of Southern Cooking, which was coauthored with Scott Peacock. All of the dishes served at Bud & Alley’s that evening were from her books, and all the food was as comfortable as comfort food can be. You can check her out on the Internet for more details, but be assured that she graced our shores thanks to the two guys at Bud & Alley’s.
Another fun event involved Gary Hogue, a winemaker from Washington state who was the honored guest at the Seaside Red Wine Festival, which was, coincidentally, Scott’s idea. The world was just beginning to discover his wines and those of the Yakima Valley area. He held a small reception outside Bud & Alley’s to discuss his wines, and others from the same appellation. Scott trotted out several bottles of Hogue’s excellent (with apologies to Sideways) merlot for the tasting, and Gary said, “Where’d you guys get this stuff? I own the winery and I can’t find it!” It was all in the preparation provided by Scott and Dave. Vision. Vision. The lads had it. Still do.
Another notable feted at a wine dinner was Robert Mondavi. This grand gentleman was the wine version of Larry the Cable Guy, so approachable was he. I had a delightful chat with him, and a few years later—while visiting Napa and Sonoma wineries—I ran into him at a small wine store. He was buying two bottles of wine! I reintroduced myself to him and asked what he was doing in the store. His answer: “I don’t always make what guests want.” Bud & Alley’s was responsible for that moment. At the twenty-fifth celebration, I asked Dave Rauschkolb about memorable visitors to his restaurant. He was especially proud of the dinner he hosted there in honor of Lidia Bastianich, one of the best-loved chefs on television and the owner of a burgeoning food and entertainment empire. There have been dozens more.
His philosophy of management is pure in its simplicity: “I empower my management team and employees. I don’t manage by fear. I lead by example, the example I learned from my boss Al Parramore from that first job at The Oyster Shanty. What a great man.”
“It’s been an amazing odyssey,” continues Dave. “I pinch myself every day. What a privilege it has been to be pioneers in a growing community. Here we were, a quarter of a century ago, two twenty-four-year-olds throwing out ideas to Robert—and he’s actually listening to us! It says a lot about Robert and his wife, Daryl, and their openness to our input. That was part of the magic of being in Seaside from the start.”
“One minute we are a couple of surfers and the next thing we’re in the business of creating lasting memories and experiences that go on for generations. Heck, I’ve held babies that came back sixteen years later to work for us as bussers. It’s just amazing.”
And ongoing. By the time this is published, there will be a new forty-seat outside deck on the second floor. Always expanding, never really changing. There are a few iconic places in the world. One of them is celebrating twenty-five years of Good Food, Good People, and Good Times.
— V —
Bill Campbell is a graduate of the University of Idaho, a fact he now tries to hide after learning Sarah Palin graduated from the same department there that he did. He spent twenty-four years in the Air Force before going into public relations in Washington, D.C., and subsequently moving here to be a columnist for the Northwest Florida Daily News. He has a master’s degree in Mass Communication from Boston University and Denver University. Plumbers make more money. He has two known children; both have graduate degrees and one is about to get his PhD in psychology, something the family has needed for a long time. This is his first freelance piece. He apologizes.