Dave Rauschkolb Wins Annual Van Ness Butler Jr Hospitality Award
Dave Rauschkolb walks into Bud & Alley’s on a humid summer morning among the background sounds of Seaside coming to life for the day. On the way into the main dining area, he passes by a group of employees readying themselves for the tasks ahead. In passing, he makes it a point to look at each one of them as he offers a prominent “good morning.”
He has worked hard to build not only one of the most successful restaurants on 30A, but to also establish personal connections with those who he comes to know.
Rauschkolb is keenly aware of the impact he has within his restaurants and the local community. He fondly recalls holding young children in his hands that have gone on to work in his establishments.
“Making people happy across multiple generations has been the most fun,” Rauschkolb says. “Having people meet here, get engaged here, and then I organize their wedding, and then they come back every year. Seeing that is the most rewarding thing for me.”
Rauschkolb is the 17th individual to be recognized with the Van Ness Butler Jr. Hospitality award. The award honors and recognizes excellence in the hospitality, service, travel/tourism, advertising, and promotion industries, as well as contributions to the local community. His continued efforts to make South Walton a world-class destination for multiple decades and the success of his business ideas make him a natural choice for the award.
Previous recipients include the likes of Chef Jim Shirley, Tracy Louthain, and Jennifer Steele.
In 1985 when Rauschkolb and his friend Scott Witcoski were approached by Robert Davis to open a new venue, the last thing on his mind was running a restaurant. With a joy of surfing the open Gulf waves and primarily focused on finishing his college degree, he never would have thought that this opportunity would present itself when it did. Initially attracted by the intense planning and strategy that Davis had laid out for Seaside, Rauschkolb knew that with the town being in its infancy he could have a role that allowed his voice to be heard in future endeavors.
Rauschkolb and Witcoski would take over an ailing French restaurant and relaunch as the now famous Bud & Alley’s. When he first walked through the doors of the now remodeled restaurant, Rauschkolb recalls being blown away by the views of the Gulf.
He was hooked.
“It’s funny how things end up working out,” he says. “That’s why whenever something doesn’t go your way just go with it, because that door needed to close.”
From a young age he had seen how the cities in the surrounding counties were developing, and he didn’t want Seaside to experience the same growing pains. By teaming up with Davis, Rauschkolb knew he could help shape how Seaside would be created, and it would give him an opportunity to give back to the town he had now fallen in love with.
The excitement he saw from visitors and residents fueled his desire to expand his footprint in the area.
“Seeing their enthusiasm for what we were doing and the enthusiasm that people had for this area was so rewarding,” he said.
Rauschkolb knew that families were willing to wait for great food but that waiting shouldn’t be boring.
“The first 20 years I was working the door and even in those days we would have a three hour wait for a table because there weren’t many places to eat,” he says.
Visitors would ask if they needed to make reservations, which the restaurant didn’t offer at the time, and it became a mission of his to give them great choices to occupy their time while waiting. Opening the Taco Bar, the Pizza Bar & Trattoria, and finally Black Bear Bread Co. with Chef Phil McDonald in 2016, guests now can visit any of these locations and grab a quick cocktail or small bite to eat. Not only does this increase the attraction of Seaside but it also gives people venues to relax in while they’re waiting for their table.
With a passion for surfing, it’s only natural that Rauschkolb would also be a strong advocate for the beaches and waters of Florida’s coast. He would take his innate leadership skills and apply them to advocacy when he created the Hands Across the Sand Initiative in February 2010.
The main goal of the movement was to stop an offshore oil drilling bill headed to the state senate that spring. He organized an event where more than 10,000 people across 80 Florida beaches would join hands for 15 minutes. The event would grow later that summer to all 50 states and 48 countries becoming an international phenomenon, with one event in Italy garnering an attendance of 6,000.
“Those are the kinds of things that make me happy,” he says. “Even one person can make a difference and come up with an idea that’s crazy enough to create change.”
As for joining the ranks of previous Van Ness Butler Jr. Award winners, Rauschkolb is thrilled.
He attributes the previous winners with a “commonalty of passion” for what they do and the care they have for Walton County.
“I couldn’t be more grateful to the community and excited to be one of those people that has helped carry the torch and will continue to do so,” he says.