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15 Questions

15 Questions with Father Fud

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Continuing our tie-in with The Beachcomber’s 15th anniversary in August. This issue, the spotlight shines on restaurateur and Beachcomberland legend Chester Kroeger, a/k/a Father Fud of Fudpucker’s.

 

 1. Where do you currently call home?

My residence is actually in South Walton, but I call Destin home.

 

2. When did you get started in the restaurant/bar business?

1982.

 

3. What’s new at Fudpucker’s?

At Fud’s on Okaloosa Island, we have 25 new boat slips—10 of which service restaurant customers who want to come by boat. We have several slips that can be rented by boaters needing a place to tie up for up to a week while visiting the area. We also increased our pontoon boat fleet by 10 boats—we now have 25 for customers to rent. We also added five new jet skis and a number of kayaks and paddleboards to our watersports operation. We are now offering airboat tours from the dock—which, by the way, we have named “Bayside Marina.”

 

Fud’s on the island also offers live entertainment on Saturdays and Sundays on the new waterfront deck starting at 3 p.m. During the live entertainment, we offer a “U-Cook Shrimp Boil” on Saturdays and on Sundays, we offer a “U Cook Steak Night,” both for $20—it’s a deal!

 

At Fud’s Destin, we just started a late night venue, the Down Under Bar. We’re building a separate entrance around back so locals can come and go as they please without a wait of any kind. Doors open at 11 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and stay open til 4 a.m. We offer theme nights with entertainment, great prices and late night sushi.

 

On the dining front, we’ve added some amazing items—Caesar salad, coconut shrimp, an Alligator Burger and Fudpucker’s World Famous chicken thighs. Yummy! Also, we now serve our namesake, triggerfish. It took us many years to find a reliable source for this delectable fish, and we’re very glad to have it back on the menu.

 

One of the more exciting things we started this year is our Fud app, available for iPhone and Android.

 

4. What keeps you motivated about coming to work every day?

My passion for the business has never changed. I love what I do, and the challenges are nothing more than opportunities to do things better and put more smiles on my customers’ faces.

 

5. Fudpucker’s has been in the news quite a bit lately. That Fudpucker’s 30A thing was particularly interesting.

Why someone go to the trouble of making a full-sized sign and put it up on a piece of property is beyond me. I fully expected to receive a phone call from the owner saying they wanted me to build a Fudpucker’s out there, but it never happened. All things said, we sure got a lot of good press, and that’s pretty cool.

 

6. What’s the biggest misconception about Fudpucker’s?

That it’s a tourist trap. Fudpucker’s has been in business for 35 years, and we have always treated locals with respect and offered them great discounts on food and drinks all year long. Fud’s is also a huge supporter of the community.

 

7. How is Father Fud planning to spend Father’s Day?

I’m going fishing, followed—of course—by a sumptuous dinner with my incredible wife Patti.

 

8. I’ve noticed there’s been very little, if any, turnover among the staff over the years. To what would you attribute that?

We do have turnover due to seasonal fluctuation in business, but our core staff is solid as a rock. The first employee I ever had—35 years ago—is still with me. She’s the manager of the Fudpucker Trading Company.

 

9. What was the last Emerald Coast restaurant you visited that you really loved?  

Fat Clemenza’s. I love their eggplant Parmesan and the way their staff treats you. It’s like family.

 

10. Who are some of the people that inspired you?

My father and mother for teaching me that anything is possible if you’re willing to work for it and work smart. Sam Montalto and Jerry Dorminy for hiring me right out of college and teaching me the ropes of this crazy business. Bob Bonezzi for hiring me as the opening DJ at Nightown and giving me an opportunity to run the snack bar at Nightown—it’s where Fudpucker’s started. My wife, for putting up with me and always being there to remind me that, despite the most difficult of times, putting one foot in front of the other means you’re moving forward. There are many more, including partners like Tim Edwards, Mike Frey, David Smith, Rich Neal and Peter DiChiara who have stood by me through thick and thin and always focused on the high road.

 

11. What are some of your favorite Beachcomberland places to eat, drink, shop? 

On the food front, Pandora’s Steakhouse, Dewey Destin’s Seafood, Clemenza’s and Mama Clemenza’s, Louis Louis, the Red Bar, La Paz, and, of course, Fudpucker’s. I don’t shop much, but Half Hitch Tackle, the Crox Store, Colombia Sportswear and Bass Pro are faves.

 

12. You’ve brought back live music to the Down Under Bar at Fudpucker’s in Destin. Who are some of your favorite local musicians?

Continuum, Grape Drink, Tribe Zion, Heritage, Jones and Company, Forrest Williams, Tim Jackson, John Hoormann, Tom Bryant, Mark Gillespie, Mark Grissom and many more.

 

13. Fudpucker’s is pretty up-to-the-minute on social media. How involved are you in that?

I learn every day how little I know about social media. But it’s the direction things are going, and I’ve been fortunate to have some amazing associates that keep me on track.

 

14. Next year is the 35th anniversary of Fudpucker’s. Are there any special events in the works? 

Wow! I guess I need to get on the stick and come up with something. Maybe we could offer our World Famous Fudburger for the same price as when I opened at Nightown in 1982. Maybe your readers can come up with some ideas?

 

15. The Beachcomber’s 15th anniversary is coming up in August. How are you planning to celebrate this momentous occasion? 

How about I throw you a party in the all-new Down Under Bar?

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