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Ring the Brass Bell

Posted on Jan 01, 2016 in Bud & Alley's , 30th Anniversary , Dave Rauschkolb , January-February 2016

Bud & Alley’s founders Dave Rauschkolb and Scott Witcoski in 1986, celebrating the opening of the restaurant. Photos courtesy Bud & Alley’s archives

Dave Rauschkolb, owner of the popular Seaside eatery Bud &Alley’s Waterfront Restaurant, has tasted thousands of recipes over the years created by the talented chefs who have worked for him. But the most important recipe is all his own — his Recipe for Success, which has brought happy patrons back to Bud & Alley’s for 30 years. There’s no secret sauce or hidden ingredient. As anyone who knows the personable restaurateur will tell you, Rauschkolb’s process combines hard work, innovation and a strong team to create the perfect mix of good food, good people and good times. And, as the iconic eatery celebrates its 30th anniversary, Rauschkolb is sticking with his winning formula.

The restaurant, Seaside and Dave Rauschkolb himself have all grown up together. When Seaside founder Robert Davis’ vision of a walkable holiday town was still more dream than reality, he invited Scott Witcoski and Rauschkolb to open a gulf-side eatery on Highway 30A in what would become the town center. The two young men had just the right combination of restaurant experience and youthful enthusiasm, and Bud & Alley’s soon developed a well-deserved reputation for fresh, delicious food and a fun atmosphere.

“Right from the start, Scott and I decided to offer fine dining in an unpretentious, casual setting,” says Rauschkolb. “There weren’t many dining options along 30A at the time, and a lot of the restaurants closer to Destin and Panama City focused on fried seafood. Bud & Alley’s was fortunate to have an amazing gulf-front location, and we wanted the food to be as much of an enticement as the scenery.

“We knew it would be a challenge, at least at first, because Seaside was still in its infancy and the off season was very quiet. But, our building had housed a restaurant prior to Bud & Alley’s and it came with kitchen equipment, tables, chairs, linens and silverware, which saved us a ton of start-up money. We had a small, hard-working staff, and since Scott and I were young and didn’t have families to support, we didn’t need big salaries to survive. I’ve always said he and I had the perfect business partnership. He’s a realist and I’m an idealist, so we complemented each other. And, while our outlooks might differ, we had the same motto — ‘Whatever it takes’, and we put that motto to the test more times than I can count, especially at the beginning. However, I’m proud to say we turned a profit the very first year and have increased sales every year since then.”

After 20 years and numerous awards, Witcoski sold his interest in the restaurant to Rauschkolb. Over the past decade, Rauschkolb has kept the focus of the restaurant on the freshest farm/surf-to-table dining options, while expanding the restaurant’s menu, hours and special event facilities. He credits much of the restaurant’s success to its talented team of both front and back-of-house employees, many of whom have been with Bud & Alley’s for years.

“I believe that creating a positive and nurturing atmosphere for the employees translates directly to the success of the restaurant. I think people might be surprised to learn how many well-known locals worked at Bud & Alley’s at one time or another,” he says. “I’ve held babies in my arms who have grow up to work here. We really are a family at Bud & Alley’s, which is one reason why we have such low staff turnover.”

Ann Hartley, who, with husband George owns the Seagrove Village Market, says “George and I have known Dave forever, probably close to 30 years. He’s been a real friend and we’ll always remember him taking the time to help us with our restaurants. Bud & Alley’s is incredibly special because it was really 30A’s restaurant beginning. It started out cool and it’s still totally cool, 30 years later.”

In 1994, Bud & Alley’s premiered the Rooftop Bar, where customers have the best view in town of the Gulf’s most spectacular sunsets, heralded each evening by the ringing of a brass bell. They also enjoy traditional and innovative concoctions created by Bud & Alley’s talented bartenders. In fact, the restaurant’s mixologist team recently won two awards at the inaugural Bloody Mary Festival in Miramar Beach, beating out 14 Northwest Florida-based restaurants and bars.

As the town grew, so did the restaurant’s role in the new community, and Rauschkolb became more and more active in local issues affecting the environment and quality of life. “Dave is a local’s local,” says Mike Ragsdale, CEO of The 30A Company, referring to the fact that Rauschkolb moved to the area with his family when he was 11 years old and never left. “Dave cares deeply for our community and works hard to advocate for and protect the unique 30A lifestyle. He’s active in business, social and civic circles, and is always at the forefront of issues that directly affect our community.”

“As excited as I was to co-own a restaurant, I was even more excited to play a part in Robert Davis’ vision for what Seaside could become,” says Rauschkolb. I looked for ways to be involved and make a positive difference. I supported the movement to obtain official designation of our main thoroughfare as Scenic Highway 30A and also co-founded the Scenic 30A Business Association. I felt it was important to call it Scenic 30A, in the hopes it would eventually obtain an official designation. Thanks to the work of Claire Bannerman, 30A eventually obtained that designation. Lately, I’ve been working with some incredibly talented and dedicated people on an effort to incorporate South Walton, which I strongly believe will benefit residents, business owners and visitors. I believe it’s essential for South Walton residents to govern South Walton.

The Bud & Alley’s staff, along with Seaside founder Robert Davis (right) welcome Robert Mondavi of Robert Mondavi Winery, and celebrity chef Lidia Bastianich, to the second Seeing Red Wine festival dinner.

“I have a deep connection with what we have done here, both in terms of community building and owning Bud & Alley’s,” he continues. “It’s extremely humbling to hear what the restaurant means to people. Bud & Alley’s is where people celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. It’s where marriage proposals are accepted, retirement parties are thrown and new homeowners are welcomed. My team and I continue to look for ways to improve the Bud & Alley’s experience, but we’re careful not to change too much.”

“From the very beginning, Bud & Alley’s has been the social and civic center of Seaside,” says Marsha Dowler, manager of Seaside’s Escape to Create artist residency. “It truly has that ‘power of place’ and it’s where homeowners and visitors go to celebrate benchmark events and create happy memories. Dave and his wife Carol are also very active in the community, lending their support and contributing generously to local causes.”

Restaurant patrons are not the only ones celebrating milestones and making memories at Bud & Alley’s. Many of the employees have the same sentimental connection to the restaurant as their customers. Bar manager Mo Moseley, a familiar face at Bud & Alley’s for the past 16 years, shares this story: “Some years ago on a quiet, off-season night, former Atlanta Braves outfielder Ron Gant sat down at the bar. He and I were about the only people in the bar that cold evening, and I had the ball game on the TV. He and I talked baseball and watched the game together for a couple of hours. It was like having Ron Gant sitting in my living room.”

Bud & Alley’s first outdoor dining area served as an ideal location for enjoying a quick delicious meal, a summer breeze and a gorgeous sunset.

Thirty years of hard work have not dulled Rauschkolb’s capacity for dreaming and his desire to innovate. In recent years, he and Carol, an accomplished interior designer, opened the adjacent Taco Bar and Pizza Bar, offering additional dining options for hungry diners as part of Bud & Alley’s Restaurant Group. Recently, Bud & Alley’s began serving breakfast on the Rooftop Deck overlooking the Gulf. Bud & Alley’s Catering Company, which manages all of the special events at the restaurant, now operates off-site, too.

And, while Rauschkolb reflects with satisfaction and gratitude on the past 30 years, he is eagerly looking forward to the years to come. And, perhaps there’s a new Rauschkolb waiting in the wings. Daughter Carlin, now 6 years old, is already spending time in the kitchen with her daddy. “Of course I would be thrilled if she wants to learn the restaurant business,” says Rauschkolb. “I think she’s got the personality for it. But, of course, she has to find her own passion.”

Bud & Alley’s will officially celebrate its 30th anniversary on Wednesday, Jan. 20, at sunset. And while many will celebrate at the Rooftop Bar, Rauschkolb invites everyone to hoist a glass wherever they are. Rauschkolb is planning a large party in the fall to top off its 30th year.

“It’s been an amazing first 30 years serving outstanding food in one of the most beautiful locations I could ever imagine,” says Rauschkolb. “I also feel privileged to have been able to participate in meaningful events in our customers’ lives and to hear over and over again that dining at Bud & Alley’s, or having a drink at sunset is a treasured tradition for generations of 30A residents and visitors. I can’t wait to see what the next 30 years on the beach will bring!”

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