KC Chesser and Chad Brady don’t give up easily. When the two purchased the former Bud’s Harley Davidson property at 2124 W. Franklin St., they knew they wanted a place not only with good food, but a thriving entertainment scene. With KC’s Timeout Lounge, KC’s Marina Pointe, and KC’s Corner Pocket Bar & Grill under their belts, Chesser and Brady knew the West Side staple of Franklin Street would be a successful spot. They went through several iterations of a possible new restaurant, but the path to getting started wasn’t a walk in the park.
“We had been rejected on coming down here before,” says Chesser. “But we didn’t want to give up on our dream of opening here.”
The persistence paid off. In March, four years after purchasing the Bud’s Harley building, Chesser and Brady were able to open the doors to Bud’s Rockin’ Country Bar and Grill. With a theme similar to what you would find at Nashville hot-spot, Chesser says the idea for a country bar in Evansville was a risk — there have been others over the years that were not successful.
But it was Brady’s confidence in the plan that ultimately convinced Chesser.
“This bar was all Chad’s idea, he talked me into it. I knew it was a big risk, but it’s paid off,” he says.
“We wanted to have a place that was unordinary from what people are used to in Evansville, where people can come in and feel like they are not in Evansville,” adds Brady, who has worked with Chesser for the last seven years. “We wanted it to be comfortable and laid back.”
And since opening the doors, Bud’s has lived up to its name as a rockin’ restaurant and bar with Nashville vibes. A 21-and-over only establishment, the restaurant is equipped with plenty of dining space, darts and pool tables, a large corner stage for live bands, and two full-service bars. The wall space is filled with large-screen televisions, perfect for catching Sunday football or college basketball games.
During the warmer months, the restaurant has three large garage-style doors that open to fenced-in patio areas where customers can dine outside and enjoy the weather and atmosphere of Franklin Street.
Chesser and Brady have packed the weekend schedules with both rock and country acts, and still offer dance music from DJs for the party crowds.
“I think we’re doing what any corporate franchise is doing, and we figured out how to get the nightlife on top of that,” says Brady.
“We have to be a little more strategic,” adds Chesser. “We had to figure out what’s going to work for lunch, dinner, and the late-night entertainment crowd.”
And, of course, the duo knew the food had to be spot on.
With a name like Bud’s Rockin’ Country Bar and Grill, Chesser and Brady wanted to focus on dishing up fresh, southern-style food. For that, they turned to their chef James Shemwell, who was working at KC’s Marina Pointe at the time. He and his wife Mikala (the general manager of Bud’s) worked to craft a menu that pulled in the element of southern hospitality paired with high-quality ingredients.
“The name Bud’s just said southern hospitality and comfort food. That’s the kind of food everyone loves, it doesn’t matter what walk of life you’re from,” says Shemwell.
So the menu is packed with staples such as country-fried steak, mac and cheese, and pan-fried catfish offered alongside classic burgers and sandwiches. They also made sure to include a popular Midwestern classic — plate lunches. Monday through Friday, diners can order the day’s special, including chicken and dumplings, southern fried chicken, pot roast, Salisbury steak, and bacon-wrapped meatloaf. The main dish comes with a side for $9.
“Plate lunches are huge in this part of the country, so we wanted to offer those at a reasonable price with a nice portion size, but also very high quality,” says Shemwell.
An emerging favorite selection among customers, however, is the BBQ Sundae. Originally from Florida, Shemwell is no stranger to the dish, having seen it offered in different variations at barbecue festivals in the southern state.
“When we saw how popular it was here (at the West Side Nut Club Fall Festival), we decided to expand on it, put it in a fishbowl, and make it enormous,” he says.
The dish includes smoked pork, baked beans, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, and Bud’s barbecue sauce, with a side of coleslaw.
Bud’s menu goes above just lunch specials and southern-style foods, too. Shemwell says there are selections for those looking to dine on premium steaks and bone-in pork chops.
The 12-ounce New York strip — USDA choice, aged three to four weeks, and hand-cut in house — has a Cajun seasoning and is topped with melted Boursin cheese, an ingredient that Shemwell compares to a light garlic cream cheese.
“I like to put it on everything,” he says.
The 10-ounce, hand-cut, bone-in pork chop is served with a rich, wild mushroom sauce that pairs perfectly with Bud’s house mac and cheese or creamy mashed potatoes and seasonal vegetables.
The Evansville community has responded positively to the new spot, says Chesser and Brady, with workday lunch times and evenings filled with patrons. The success of the Franklin Street Bud’s in such a short amount of time has encouraged the pair to take the idea on the road — they just completed a deal for a spot on the square in Boonville, Indiana, and hope to open a restaurant there with the same theme.
“It’s going to be smaller, but still good food, good atmosphere, and live entertainment,” says Brady.
“We put so much into Bud’s. We’ve combined everything we’ve learned and dealt with over the last 10 years,” adds Chesser. “This place is special.”
Location: 2124 W. Franklin St.
Dining Hours: 11 a.m. to 3 a.m. every day
Adult Beverages: Yes
Payment: All major credit cards accepted