Joni and Clint Pipkin were working to establish a new gourmet hot dog food truck business in mid-September when they noticed the coffee stand in the parking lot at O'Callahan's Pub was gone. Thinking that would be a great place for their food wagon, they made an appointment to talk to the pub's owner, Greg Calahan. After listening to the food truck proposal, Calahan said he had a better idea for them.
A whirlwind two weeks later, Buck's Steakhouse and Sports Bar was on its way to becoming the newest restaurant in Key Center. The couple decided to start a new restaurant because there are so few eatery options on the Key Peninsula.
“How much I learned in two weeks is shocking,” Joni said, reflecting on what it takes to get a restaurant up and running.
The Pipkins have been married for 36 years and business partnerships are a familiar mode of operation for them. However, their last restaurant experience was 20 years ago in Montana. At that time, both their resort cafe and pizzeria businesses became popular gathering places. “We're used to being part of the community and doing things that help (the community),” Joni said.
In addition to business ventures, the couple have six children, 15 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Some of the family members are involved with the Buck's Steakhouse venture.
One of their first calls was to their daughter's mother-in-law, Cindy Galford. They asked Galford to come out of her retirement in Pennsylvania to assume bookkeeping and management duties for the steakhouse.
Galford had lived in Washington before and built a career as the general manager for Old Country Buffet restaurants. That business grew from a local Puyallup diner to a corporate chain with many locations in Washington and California. When Pipkin asked for Galford's help with Buck's Steakhouse, she replied, “You got it. I'm in.”
“I'm thankful they asked me to come out of retirement and come out and play,” Galford said.
The Pipkins appreciate the local support they have received, starting with Calahan, who Joni said was “absolutely awesome helping facilitate this whole thing.”
Next came help from Mark Regan, a Food Services of America agent. He introduced them to Cattle Country Angus, a supplier of organic, grain-fed beef raised in Washington, Montana and Idaho. Buck's signature steak is the Cowboy Rib-Eye from Cattle Country.
Their chief support comes from the staff of nearly 20 employees, all but one of whom live on the Key Peninsula and “are willing to go that extra mile,” Galford said.
Buck’s recruited two cooks from Gig Harbor restaurants who have their own specialties to offer. One of the servers, Diana Nole, is also a baker and has added dinner-plate-sized cinnamon rolls, blueberry muffins and Buck's signature bread pudding to the dessert menu. The restaurant is also serving breakfast all day.
Buck's Steakhouse is all about food and families. “No stage. No pool tables. Rowdiness—down,” Joni said. “We want families to come and feel comfortable. We will focus on the food but will be a sports bar on game days.”
Business is good. “It's been a great reception,” Joni said. “We are really looking forward to making it bigger and better than ever.”
For those wondering about the name: “My son is going to hate me for this. Buck is his middle name,” Joni said. “Everything I name, I name after my kids.”
And what about the food truck? The Pipkins are hoping that sometime in December the parking lot will showcase their top-of-the-line food truck. It has a unique paint job featuring scenes of Washington state and will sell, yes, gourmet hot dogs.
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