Interviewed by Charles Morgan III
Photos by Chris Manson
Mike Buckingham left home in Madeira Beach at the age of 17 and started working for himself. He arrived on the scene in Destin in 1985 with two trucks and a suitcase.
He knocked on doors, made phone calls, applied for projects with cities, counties, developers and engineers. He offered to do anything that needed to be done.
He started his business Florida Septic and Sewer and ran it for 20 years until he sold it. He continued to work in projects involving infrastructure—roads and utilities. He started Coastal Underground and sold it two years later. He then started Underground, Inc.
Buckingham opened Buck’s Almost Famous Smokehouse in Destin last year. He started working when he was a teenager, and he never stopped.
You’ve done a lot of stuff. You know everyone. You seem to know how to do anything—at least, you act like you do—from building to barbecue. You cut a wide swath. Do you have some sort of weird philosophy that you follow?
My philosophy is simple. If man’s done it once, I can do it again. I’m pretty much old school. You ask me to do something, I do it, I get paid. Pretty simple. My success has been built on relationships. You can trust me when I tell you I’m going to do something.
There’s a little more to it than that. You stay really busy. Where does the energy come from?
The energy is in my DNA. My mom and dad both stayed busy. I’ve got a lot of outside interests—I usually get pulled into projects by helping people—and one thing leads to another. We started Buck’s BBQ for fun, and to stay busy. I’m always looking for the eighth day in the week.
You’ve gone from septic tanks to barbecue—probably not a common progression.
My wife Michelle enjoys it. Everyone loves working with her. Colt, my 17-year-old son, could run the restaurant—he can do anything. We’ve done really well. We built the store, did the research, nailed the recipes, put the menu together. It’s been fun. We enjoy feeding people.
What is Mike Buckingham going to be doing in five years? Ten years?
I’m going to the Virgin Islands next week to look for a place. Colt starts school at Auburn next year. We’re moving into a new house we built next month. I’m hoping that Michelle and I can spend more time together.
What is Destin going to look like in five years? Ten years?
I’m hoping that Mr. Morgan is wrong, but he might be right. We’re not a fishing village anymore. The demographics have changed. If we don’t allow another monstrous development, we have a chance of possibly bringing our demographics back to where they were.
I think my mother likes you more than she likes me. How did that happen?
Your mom called me one day because her house was flooded. I’ve always had a soft spot for elderly people. I showed up with a crew and with pumps, and we took care of it.
Over the years, what projects have you been involved in?
I did the beach re-nourishment after Hurricane Opal. I’ve repaired or replaced almost the entire infrastructure in Destin. Sidewalks, streets, underground stuff, landscaping. I’ve built houses and a lot of the offices and warehouses in Destin.
You probably know the ins and outs of this city better than anyone, on lots of levels.
I love to help the city. My goal is to help people, because I’ve been blessed. I’m a firm believer in the guy upstairs.