Good Food, Good People and Good Timing by By Zandra Wolfgram
In surfing, catching a great wave is all about timing. In 1985 Dave Rauschkolb was 24 and a die-hard surfer — he won the Gulf Coast Men’s Championship in 1981. It was fall and the surf was up. The last thing this beach boy wanted to do was to stop to chat. But his surfing buddy, Scott Witcoski, whom he worked with at Les Saisons, a French restaurant in Destin, was driving, and so Dave didn’t have much choice, but to tag along to meet with Seaside founder Robert Davis about a business opportunity to open a restaurant.
After touring the Gulf front restaurant, no one was more surprised than Rauschkolb, when Witcoski asked him to join him in opening the restaurant together. Today, nearly 30 years later, Bud & Alley’s is a beloved tradition that has stood the test of time. It is the oldest established restaurant in South Walton. And its commitment to excellence is award winning — the restaurant is a Florida Trend magazine Golden Spoon Hall of Fame winner.
“That moment changed our lives,” Rauschkolb recalls. Within 24 hours the college senior tossed his bachelor’s degree in business management and marketing to the side to embrace the real life adventure of opening the restaurant with his friend. “We named it Bud & Alley’s after Robert’s dog, Bud, and Scott’s cat, Alley,” he says. “We wanted to create a restaurant that had great food that was unpretentious and fun. Our motto still is: Good Food, Good People & Good Times.”
Fast forward to 2007. Rauschkolb bought out his business partner, and expanded the back kitchen of Bud & Alley’s in order to extend the restaurant’s culinary brand name to the Taco Bar, a casual, festive eatery seating around 50.
“The concept is an authentic border taqueria using the freshest ingredients. I wanted to duplicate the real experience you might feel at a real border taqueria. I travelled to San Diego and ate at more than 40 taquerias along the border areas and learned what real Mexican food is all about,” Rauschkolb says.
A year later brought still more growth and more international flavors to Seaside in the form of the Pizza Bar. Located about 50 paces from Bud & Alley’s, right on the beach, it features Napoli-style pizza baked in a wood-fired brick oven stoked with southern oak.
“The Pizza Bar, again, is all about authenticity. My wife, Carol, and I travelled to Rome, Naples and a nearby island called Ischia to research every aspect of thin crust pizza and the philosophy of leisurely Italian dining,” he explains.
Leo Casas, former town architect for Seaside and the principal of Braulio Casas Architects — who was the “tour guide” during the trip to Italy —designed the space. Carol Murphy Rauschkolb, who owns Carol Murphy Design, designed the interior. The garden, designed by Leah Mason, a dear friend of the Rauschkolbs, surrounds the restaurant and is filled with flowering potted plants and lemon and fig trees all found on Ischia.
And timing was once again kind to Rauschkolb this past January. A catering business on Logan Lane in Grayton Beach became available, allowing Rauschkolb to expand the Bud & Alley’s culinary experience beyond the restaurant to both on- and off-site catering for weddings, special occasions and corporate events under the name of Bud & Alley’s Catering.
As a pioneer of the farm- and sea-to-table movement in Northwest Florida, Bud & Alley’s has always kept its focus on food like that of the overall restaurant atmosphere: simple, straight forward and unpretentious. The menu features a fresh take on Southern coastal classic cuisine with dishes like fresh whole fish, crab cakes and barbecued shrimp. As much as possible seafood is sourced direct from the Gulf and paired with the finest fresh produce harvested from local fields and farms.
Whether surfing, playing golf or a game of poker, Rauschkolb relishes a challenge. And after nearly three decades in the restaurant business, this fearless risk taker begins each day with what he calls the most important asset in life: a positive attitude. But don’t expect him to take all the credit for his secession of successes. “The thing that makes it all possible is I’ve got amazing people who work with me,” he says.