Ya ain't been pucked...Fudpuckers: then and now
The story of Fudpucker’s is, in many ways, the story of Destin.
That’s because the 34-year-old restaurant has a rich history that has largely followed the trajectory of the world’ luckiest fishing village, from its humble beginnings as a concession stand inside Nighttown to its two current locations situated in the heart of Destin and Okaloosa Island.
Chester Kroeger was a budding entrepreneur with little to his name when he opened up Fudpucker’s, which was a nickname local deckhands gave the much-despised trigger fish, inside the Nighttown night club at the corner of Palmetto and Azalea Drive in 1982. He only had four menu items: the fish pucker, the fud burger, the chicken pucker and four skins.
“Those four things are still our core menu items today,” Kroeger said.
Over the next three and a half decades, Kroeger grew his business, first moving to what is currently the Pompano Joe’s restaurant location in 1983, being kicked out in 1986 after developers called him a “blight on the neighborhood,” opening up its Okaloosa Island location that same year and its current Destin location three years later.
“Timing was everything,” Kroeger said of his moves to Destin and Okaloosa Island.
While at the Pompano Joe’s location, Kroeger teamed up with Tim Edwards, who until then had been a gym buddy and bartender at Fudpucker’s Beachside Bar and Grill.
“He eventually realized it was cheaper to pay me with equity in the company that to keep paying me in free beer,” Edwards joked.
Edwards and Kroeger proved to be unstoppable restaurateurs, and were aided by some of old Destin’s key movers and shakers: Cash Moore, Lloyd Bell and Mattie Kelly all had a hand in shaping the history of Fudpucker’s in one way or another.
These days, Fudpucker’s is not only one of Destin’s most recognizable restaurants, but is also one of its most harrowing success stories. And, according to Kroeger and Edwards, they’re not done.
“We’re trying to get back to our local base,” Kroeger said, adding that they offer local and military discounts and have opened up a new late night bar, the Down Under Bar, in a bid to attract more locals to the restaurant.
As for the future of Fudpuckers, Kroeger and Edwards have high hopes that the trajectory of the restaurant will continue in an upward direction.
“We are looking to expand,” Kroeger said. “We want to give more families a reason to come here.”