Fudpucker’s, the restaurant that made a tongue twister of a name for itself in Destin, has settled into a second home on Okaloosa Island as you travel into Fort Walton Beach – offering family fun, nightlife and everything in between. (Seriously, everything.)
“We focus on family fun while walking on the edge with our world famous merchandise and live entertainment,” says founder Chester Kroeger, affectionately referred to as ‘Father Fud’. “Another thing that separates us is the fact that we offer teens a place to party in a safe, fun-filled atmosphere.”
Add in the live alligators and you have a winning recipe for success, according to Kroeger. Fudpucker’s is in its 33rd year and growing.
“These things have enabled us to pass the test of time, which is rare in this business,” Kroeger says proudly. “One of the main reasons we have survived for so long is our ‘Fud Family’.”
Indeed, many of his employees have been with the company for more than 10 years, and all new employees are welcomed into the family and given an opportunity to grow. Coming from the boss man himself, the staff has made Fudpucker’s what it is today.
Let’s face it, so have the catchy name and live music, offered seven nights a week in Destin and three times weekly at the Island location. On weekends, you can reel in great specials at FudShucker’s, the in-house steam shack and raw bar. They host a shrimp boil every Saturday and a BBQ every Sunday, featuring some of the best drink prices on the coast.
So, what’s in a name? Kroeger is candid: “Back in the early days, Triggerfish were considered a pest and were in such abundance that fishermen could not get their bait to the bottom where they hoped to catch desirable species such as Grouper and Red Snapper. They would often curse the Triggers, using highly profane language that offended many of their customers. So the crafty captains and deckhands came up with a name for the pesky Triggerfish that was much less offensive but got the message across.”
You guessed it – the Triggerfish became “Fudpuckers.”
And Kroeger became “Father Fud.” Fresh out of college and out of money, he was too proud to call up Mom and Pop, so he started working in a nightclub that let him run the snack bar. That’s where Fudpucker’s got its humble start more than three decades ago, serving a limited selection of FudBurgers, FishPuckers and FudDogs. Then came those famous T-shirts, which the owner says catapulted his business to the big time.
Today’s Destin location opened in 1989 across from Henderson Beach State Park. The original Fort Walton restaurant opened in 1985, before space constraints merited a move to the larger waterfront property on Okaloosa Island in 2013.
The new venue prompted a fresh Fud-venture in Fudpucker’s Water Sports. Just head out back for parasailing, jet skis, pontoon boats, kayaks and paddleboards. You can also book fishing charters or catamaran cruises just a stone’s throw from your table.
Don’t let the bold name scare you from bringing the little ones. The focus is on families, says Father Fud, and the famed bar and restaurant is loved by vacationers and locals alike. (If you live in the area, you can become a bona fide member of Club Fud, which scores you 15 percent off every purchase and priority seating even during the busy season.)
For the kiddos, don’t pass up Fat Daddy’s Arcade to play skee-ball and video games, and either Gator Beach (Destin) or Gator Island (Fort Walton) to get up close and personal with reptiles. The Destin venue offers live shows during the season, and you can have your photo made holding a small gator at the newer attraction on Okaloosa Island.
Of course you may be asking yourself, “Why gators?”
Kroeger has a fud-tastic answer.
“When we found out that the top two things people want to see when they come to Florida were animals, we took notice,” he says. “We couldn’t offer Mickey Mouse, but we certainly could showcase alligators.”
And don’t leave without buying a T-shirt!