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Bud’s Bar in Schoolcraft has a Great History

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Bud’s Bar owner Nate McNeal.

Editor’s note: Restaurants are important to many of us. Perhaps they provide just a quick meal when we don’t have time to prepare our own. Or they’re much more of a treat, with meals of dishes or quality we don’t get at home. For many, they’re also a meeting place; they provide a social setting that adds to our sense of community. South Kalamazoo county has a number of restaurants. We plan to tell you about them in coming issues. Here’s the first.

By Sheryl Oswalt

Use Google to search for “great food and drink in Schoolcraft, MI” and the search results will lead with more than a dozen consecutive listings of “Bud’s Food & Drink” at 220 N Grand Street.

The restaurant lives up to the search terms.

Its website banner tells seekers it has been serving diners since 1952. But not just food: It offers karaoke Thursday and Saturday nights from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., a live band after 9 p.m. on Fridays. With a terrific food menu, an increasing variety of locally distilled liquors and over 50 Michigan brews on tap, there is something for everyone at Bud’s.

Owner Nate McNeal has owned and operated Bud’s since 2004.   He employs 25-30 local people. McNeal said he is the fourth owner of the restaurant, named after a previous owner. He was asked if the building came with any stories. He shared some: He said he was told the building was once in the Guinness World Book of Records because of its two-story outhouse; it was said to be the last place Custer stopped before he headed out West.

Is the building haunted? He smiled. “So they say.” McNeal said that along with ghost stories from those before him, his staff has sometimes called him late at night to complain of strange noises and mysterious shadows in the building. But he has no leads on who the mystery ghost or ghosts might be!

McNeal grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, and apprenticed in up-scale establishments. Working as a chef since he was 17, McNeal dreamed of having a restaurant of his own. He had cousins in the Schoolcraft area and had been in Bud’s while visiting Michigan. He liked the small-town atmosphere. When he learned that it was available, he made the move.

Bud’s Bar staff Cheri Vandenberg, Christine Dage, and Shannon Dorko.

Unlike some bars in large cities, he doesn’t feel that he has a “biggest bar night of the year” but more a steady stream of locals coming in to enjoy a good meal close to home. His biggest day of the year is on the 4th of July after the annual parade, where he has an early breakfast buffet in the morning and offers his backyard specials after the parade.

With 75 percent of his revenue from food, he said he doesn’t feel pinched from the growth in the brew-pub scene. His passion is food and on a busy night you will likely find him working in the kitchen rather than sitting at the bar with patrons. He likes to impress upon people that his place is a restaurant before 9 p.m. and a bar after 9 p.m. This is further evidenced by a special kid’s menu and even a toy box.

McNeal was asked why he thinks people return to Bud’s. He said he would like to think it’s first for the quality of the food, second for the service and third because he takes an active role in the community. Along with sponsoring a golf outing each year to benefit charity, he enjoys being the place for families to gather after school sports functions or other after-school activities.

Bud’s has a full menu of appetizers ranging from deep fried pickle spears to jumbo wings. Its meals include soups, sandwiches, salads, wraps, burgers and pizza. It also has steak and seafood and a great offering of Mexican foods.

While he doesn’t have a famous family dish on the menu, McNeal draws his pride from creating his own famous dishes.   When asked what was his best seller, he said that most people come in for their variety of burgers; followed by the nachos. Sure enough, when I polled a local patron before I left, Rick McGiffin indicated that the patty melt was his favorite item on the menu.

In doing my homework, my husband and I had a great meal there last Friday and our server Shelby was terrific.   We also found the food portions generous and fairly priced. I know we will be returning to try some of the new items McNeal has planned for his spring menu. We all know that can’t come soon enough!

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