East Idaho Eats: Buddy’s Italian Restaurant happy to give locals ‘Buddy’s breath’ for another 60 years
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POCATELLO — How does a restaurant remain open and successful for 60 years?
There are so few able to answer that question. One restaurant that can make that boast is Buddy’s Italian Restaurant in Pocatello. And their answer, according to owner Steve Piper, is simple: keeping the customer base happy with good food, in large portions at affordable prices. But Buddy’s also has a secret weapon: it’s staff. One person in particular.
“Bobette. Bobette makes the salad dressing. She’s been spicing everything — spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce — for the last 45 years,” Piper said.
Bobette Heath has been at Buddy’s since the mid-’70s. And she is the trick to keeping consistent flavors for nearly a half-century.
“I love Buddy’s,” she said. “I don’t know what I’d do without it.”
One of the things Heath works with perhaps more than anything else is garlic. It’s an ingredient that is used heavily in Italian food, and at Buddy’s, that can be said double. In fact, the staff is proud of the term “Buddy’s breath,” the name given to the recognizably pungent scent that emanates from a mouth recently filled with Buddy’s Italian food.
The garlic-heavy recipes are ages-old, passed down through generations of Piper’s family, and friends of the family. At least that can be said of the classics: spaghetti and meatballs, raviolis, and, of course, the salad. But some of the newer additions — at least newer for an eatery that has been around for 60 years — are creations of a kitchen staff general manager Cody Stufflebeam said is of the best the restaurant has had in a while.
Both Stufflebeam and Piper, like so many of the employees you will see at Buddy’s, are grizzled veterans of the business.
Stufflebeam started at Buddy’s 14 years ago, as a dishwasher. Piper? He was there, also washing dishes, the night Buddy’s opened in February, 1961, nearly 10 years before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.
Buddy’s sold out of everything that night, according to Piper. By 9 o’clock, the restaurant was plum out of beer, food, everything.
Since, Buddy’s has been able to keep up with business, but one menu item, Stufflebeam warned, is unlikely to be around by dinner time.
I was served the Monday special — lasagna. Those interested in its meat, saucy, garlicky goodness, would be best served heading in early, as it is often out by 5 p.m.
But there is the option of reserving a piece.
“What a lot of people will do with the lasagna is, they’ll call and reserve a lasagna to pick up for dinner,” Piper said. “It’s like seats on an airplane.”
In speaking with customers of the restaurant, it was quickly understood that the manner in which Buddy’s serves its generations of loyal customers is one of the things that has given the business its staying power. The feel of the dining room creates a family atmosphere.
Using Piper’s analogy of seats on a plane, there are barely enough seats to fill a Cessna, and that is by design.
Piper explained a motto by which his mother operated the business before him, and he operates it now.
“Keep it small and full rather than big and empty, and that’s what we’ve done,” he said.
Because of that, Buddy’s has no serious interest in expanding.
But, that also made it hard for the restaurant to celebrate its 60th anniversary in February. That is why the celebration was put off until this summer. Piper and Stufflebeam are hopeful that Buddy’s can celebrate, the way the restaurant did to a great reception for its 50th anniversary.
“We’ll have a buffet line of food, music going on in the parking lot; kind of have a parking lot party for customer appreciation,” Stufflebeam said. We did one back for the 50-year that was a pretty big hit.”
Not only will it be an opportunity for Buddy’s to celebrate it’s own success, it will be a chance for the staff to thank its customers for keeping the restaurant alive through the pandemic.
“We appreciate them, We wouldn’t be here without them,” Stufflebeam said. “Every person that came through here helped us be here for another day, so thank you, that really helped, and it’s still helping.”
Buddy’s Italian Restaurant is located at 626 East Lewis Street in Pocatello, and is open Monday through Thursday, from 11 a.m. to 8:45 p.m., and Friday and Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. Visit them here for menu and contact information.
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