Awesome Indie Restaurant Series – Fudpucker’s in Destin and Fort Walton Beach FL

This series profiles restaurants that are creating a buzz in their cities and towns. With each Awesome Indie we profile, we’ll check in with owner (“The Head Honcho”), the GM (“The Fearless Leader”), and an employee who personifies their brand (“The Evangelist”), to pick their brains and find out what they’re doing that makes their restaurant hum.

Today we’re serving up Fudpucker’s, a famous restaurant with two locations in Destin, Florida and Fort Walton Beach, Florida. They’ve been in business for over 28 years. They are located in the Panhandle on the beautiful Emerald Coast and employ approximately 150 employees year round. During the summer season, their numbers swell to 400-500 employees.

The Head Honcho
Chester Kroeger – Chester has become a gourmet cook through trial and error. Having no formal training in the culinary arts, “I learned that you had to give people what they want as opposed to what you want to give them. There is no mystery to cooking well.  Like in life, you make mistakes and you learn from them.  Eventually, you get it right. The big thing is desire.”  This has served Chester well as he has been in business since 1982 – over 28 years.  In that time Fudpucker’s menu has grown from one that featured nothing but sandwiches to one that has over fifty items including the “World Famous” Fudburger.

Why is Fudpucker’s successful?
Fudpucker’s provides an atmosphere of great food and fun/friendly service. Our aim is to make sure everyone leaves with a full belly and a smile on their face. We also have a lot of stuff for folks to do while they wait for their table. We have a 3,000 square foot gift shop, full of wonderful treasures and of course our world famous t-shirts. We have a small playground for the little tykes and video games for the “tweens”. Gator Beach is fun for all ages. With over 60 live alligators, guests are treated to a free gator show and can get their picture taken holding a live alligator. We are committed to making the visit a memorable one so guests will want to tell their friends and family about it and will want to return themselves again and again. Having a good time is what it’s all about!

How do people find out about Fudpucker’s?
Almost all of our guests find us either by word of mouth (referrals from friends/family) or by driving by. At night, the deck on the front of the restaurant is lit up and during the summer, you can see the folks lined up the walkway enjoying the free Gator shows while they wait for their table. There’s no better advertisement!

What’s your favorite meal on your menu?
Fried Fish Pucker with American cheese – side of tartar sauce. With that, comes the best fries on the Emerald Coast. I always get a side of Crazy Mother Pucker BBQ sauce to dip my fries in. Top that off with a Chocolate Sin cake that is big enough to share. It’s warmed chocolate cake served in a huge goblet with ice cream, chocolate syrup, whipped cream and a cherry on top! Yummmmm!

Let’s say you meet somebody on a plane who is coming to visit the Emerald Coast. He doesn’t yet know you own a restaurant, and asks for a restaurant recommendation. What’s your “airplane pitch” for Fudpucker’s?
Fudpucker’s is a very unique restaurant that looks like a big tree house. There are so many different levels, it’s easy to get lost. There are even yellow pelican feet on the floor so you can find your way to the bathroom! They have plenty of space for meetings, private parties and receptions. Make sure to take a sharpie so you can sign the walls. The menu is a keeper! It has funny stories and lets you in on what’s going on at Fudpucker’s. It also serves as their catalog for Fudpucker merchandise. There’s a little something on the menu for everyone; from steak to sandwiches. Definitely, try the Fudburger with the best fries on the Emerald Coast. You can also try the Gator Tail appetizer. You can also shop in the 3,000 square foot gift shop. It features world famous Fudpucker shirts, hats, drinkwares and all sorts of gifts/souvenirs. Don’t forget to get your picture taken with a live alligator before you leave. There are free gator shows at the top of the hour. If you have teens, they have Teen Night during the summer. Teens 13-17 have the deck to themselves and can dance the night away while parents relax in the bar overlooking the deck.

What do you hope the future holds for Fudpucker’s?
Businesses along the Emerald Coast have been seriously affected by the BP Oil Spill and we are no exception. We’ve survived a lot over the years (hurricanes, floods, etc.), we’ll survive this and come out stronger for it. We hope to keep adding attractions to make Fudpucker’s not only a restaurant, but a destination where people can bring their families and spend a few hours with us.

The Fearless Leader
Rich Neal – Rich has been with Fudpucker’s since Jun 1991. He came to us from the Pizza Hut Organization from Jacksonville, FL. He was recruited by our then general manager. Rich is an extremely steady, reliable manager. Never a “Yes” man, we value his input into the daily operations of the restaurant. We can always rely on him to give us an accurate read of any given situation. He is fantastic with crisis management, staying calm and cool under pressure. He is fair to employees and well-liked by everyone in the organization.

Why do you like working at Fudpucker’s?
Fudpucker’s is a family run business and they treat their employees like family. We are extremely busy, especially in the summer and every day is a new day. It’s never boring.

What’s the most important aspect of your job?
Making sure our staff has the training and tools to ensure our guests have the best time possible. This includes servers, bussers, bartenders, managers, hostesses, etc.

What is your management style?
Restaurant management is not only about physical resources and schedules. You have to be in tuned with your staff as individuals. Be aware of challenges they may be facing in their own lives. Guidance and discipline with an occasional dash of tough love is what I hope I provide to the staff. I would like to think I treat the staff like they were family.

What’s your favorite meal on your menu?
Our Ultimate Chicken Wrap is fantastic!

The Evangelist
Tom Kelly – Tom has worked at Fudpucker’s for over 18 years, since Feb 14th, 1992. He is the longest term employee (non manager) at Fudpucker’s. Tom, known as TK, is a daily fixture here at Fuds. He’s a dependable hard worker, never missing a day and always has a friendly word/smile for those in passing. He is an asset and is key in the smooth operation of the kitchen. In general, he’s a fun guy to be around.

Why do you like working at Fudpucker’s?
I like working with the people and the company. It’s fun working here and very enjoyable.

What’s the most important aspect of your job?
Making sure the customer gets what they order in very timely and enjoyable manner.

What’s your favorite meal on your menu?
I enjoy eating the Shrimp Scampi.


Restaurant with Open Jobs to Fill?
Check out Restaurant Jobs by Schedulefly
The easiest way for restaurants to find and hire great people

Is Restaurant Staff Scheduling Wearing You Out?
Tens of thousands of restaurant folks use Schedulefly to make restaurant staff scheduling and communication easy, simple, and fun.