Bud & Alley’s Surfside Continues To Grow

Local restaurant has grown along with the Seaside area
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Photo by Alissa Aryn Photography

On a winter afternoon, I watched from an empty room as young people lined up to fill out applications for tourist season work as servers, runners and cooks. All were well dressed, as if they were pursuing jobs as bank tellers versus employment at a Gulf-front restaurant in the Florida Panhandle.

Mr. Rauschkolb has a reputation, I concluded.

This was far from my first visit to Bud & Alley’s on Scenic County Highway 30A in South Walton. Always, I had found its personnel to be pleasant but not chatty, efficient and sharp.

Dave had lost track of his appointment to meet with me, I learned when I called him. He asked me to give him a few minutes. When he arrived, he had his daughter, pretty in a print dress, in tow. He situated her at a table near the one where I was sitting, admonished her about what not to watch on her laptop, and then joined me.

Irritated, he caught the attention of an employee and issued her a directive. Presently, she delivered me water in a fancy glass, with a napkin. Rauschkolb exhaled and focused his attention on me.

We spoke about surfing mostly, his passion since he was 16. Rauschkolb grew animated as he recalled championships won, trips taken and a pair of 25-foot waves that almost drowned him in Puerto Rico.

He inspected the surf outside his restaurant in Seaside and declared, “Waves are breaking good right now at the piers in Panama City Beach.”

As I admire a fisherman who can expertly read tides and weather, I admire Rauschkolb, given his intimate relationship with the water.

Bud & Alley’s, too, is close to the water. Its menu reflects that closeness. The restaurant doesn’t compete with the Gulf. It cozies up to it, respects it, loves it, is informed by it.

An expansion of the restaurant, nearing completion at this writing, won’t affect that. And, as before, after poring over the new arrivals at Seaside’s Sundog Books, I will repair to Bud & Alley’s for a Bloody Mary and smoked tuna dip as fresh as you will find for sale anywhere. Others’ palates might savor most the seared scallops, seafood gumbo or fish of the day with succotash, menu staples still.

New waves of diners will encounter enhanced entrances, an enlarged rooftop deck, an elevator tower. Much has changed. The growth of the eatery has mirrored the success of the community that hosts it. Only a few guests these days will have experienced the early days of Bud & Alley’s when Rauschkolb and his surfing buddy Scott Witcoski borrowed the sum of $10,000 from their mothers, finagled a $60,000 loan from Destin Bank — at a time when bankers engaged in handshake deals based on what they saw when they looked into the eyes of borrowers — and went into business at the invitation of Seaside founder Robert Davis.

Both the banker and Davis surely saw in Rauschkolb the tenacity and drive that led to his triumphs in competitive surfing, the sport to which he gravitated because he was too small to play football. He is a terrier, all right.

Thirty-five years later, the views from Bud & Alley’s are as wonder-inspiring and as apparently pristine as they ever have been. They wash over most people. Only the occasional dude like Rauschkolb reads them.

Rauschkolb bought out Witcoski years ago and today owns several businesses in South Walton in addition to Bud & Alley’s, sellers of pizza and tacos and sourdough bread. All do well.

But there was a time for three months in 2014 when Rauschkolb attempted a second Bud & Alley’s at the Lighthouse Marina in Panama City Beach, in a space that was once the Boatyard restaurant and is today the Grand Marlin.

The Sea Dragon pirate ship, a tourist attraction, docks there. The location is lagoon front, not Gulf front.

Rauschkolb had strayed a bit too far.

On the lagoon, there were no waves to catch.

Bud & Alley’s belongs at the side of what Pulitzer’s Prize winner Jack E. Davis called the American sea.

Categories: Dining Out