By Stephanie Burt
Talk to Dave Rauschkolb, and you’ll soon hear the excitement in his voice. This is a man who, despite much success in the area, doesn’t seem to be one resting on his laurels or deciding to relax his pace. Talk to him for any length of time, and you realize that it could be just the opposite – he could just be getting started.
“It’s rare and fortunate when someone has an opportunity to blossom with very few restrictions,” said Rauschkolb. That answer was in response to a question about his long history of investment of time, energy and resources in 30A, and it’s evidence of how the longtime restaurateur sees the world and his place in it. “With enough drive and passion, there is no limitation on happiness and positivity.”
Rauschkolb has seen his life as an adventure from the beginning.
“I’ve never lived my life with a fear of anything,” he explained, adding that “my parents were positive, smart, humorous, and gave me a great foundation to go out and explore.” So when, in the last semester of college, he was presented with the opportunity to open a restaurant with his friend Scott Witcoski, he quit school. “I was just taking classes, postponing real life, and here was real life. I was ready to go.”
It was 1986 when, at age 24, he and Witcoski opened Bud & Alley’s, named for two pets. They set out to hit a balance between good food and creating a relaxed atmosphere that fit the relaxed vibe of the town by the sea. Witcoski was back of house, Rauschkolb was front, and there wasn’t much around.
“Seaside was really nowhere. I got really excited that with the restaurant, I could have the opportunity to have a voice in a new community,” he said. “So I became interested in being a part of it and began to work with dynamic, interesting people to create a sense of place, to create a town.”
Bud & Alley’s became a jumping-off point for Rauschkolb’s love of Seaside. He had witnessed the unrestrained growth in places such as Panama City, and it was something he didn’t want for Seaside, for the place where he was putting roots. Neither did Seaside founders Robert and Daryl Davis, and so it was easy for Rauschkolb to buy into the vision of what his budding community could be.
“I’ve always been committed to preserving the area’s character and natural beauty,” he said, “so I was just as excited to get involved in the community as I was to be on the ground floor of the 30A culinary explosion.”
He never shies away from a new project, and so he became involved politically, working to put people in government whose values aligned with his own. Soon Rauschkolb was serving on the Seaside School Board, and he’s also heavily involved in the county through the A Better South Walton organization.
That passion has never dissipated for the restaurant business.
“I’ve been so fortunate to attract amazing people who work with me. It’s really fun empowering people to succeed with me,” he said, adding that he has an abject dislike of burning people out. So even as he added Taco Bar, then Pizza Bar, and Black Bear Bread Co. to his list of restaurants, he made sure that his staff knew his focus was on them, not just the bottom line. All full-time staff are required to take two days off (in a row) a week, and he creates an environment that is about contribution, not “a micro-managing older owner,” he explained. “There’s one waiter that’s been working with me for 19 years, which is amazing in an industry that traditionally has a lot of turnover.”
As he has grown his restaurant footprint on 30A, he’s made a point to keep the ideas approachable and the food consistent. It’s all about building community, making places where people want to gather, year after year. However, what he hasn’t made a point to do is really to take things slow.
“I have a hard time saying no,” he said with a chuckle, “and I’m not afraid. When I see opportunity, I pounce.”
Although it could be easy to dismiss such catch phrases as motivational soundbytes, Rauschkolb’s personality is actually anything but slick. He is approachable, engaged, fun, and really down to earth, just as you would imagine the person would be who has helmed the personality of the iconic Bud & Alley’s hangout for all these years. He’s the guy you want to share a beer with, the one who asks about your family, the guy who will pick up that trash on the beach when no one’s looking. In short, he’s a friend of Seaside, and the town seems to love him back.
Thirty-plus years in the restaurant business finds Rauschkolb, 56, with an 8-year old daughter and a 14-month old, and he is just as excited to be in Seaside as he’s always been. His restaurants are close by, his family is growing up in this community, and he still takes time to surf his beloved Gulf of Mexico waves, often with his partner in Black Bear Bread Co., Chef Phil McDonald. His days are undoubtedly full, and yet sometimes he still wakes in the middle of the night with an idea for how to tackle a challenge.
“I say just jump on the slide, and slide to the bottom,” he said. “When you get to do what you love to do, there are no limits.”
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2018 edition of the Food & Wine Guide for South Walton.
Photos courtesy of Bud & Alley’s and Dave Rauschkolb