POCATELLO — Like it was yesterday, Steve Piper still remembers the February night in 1961 when he was 13 years old washing dishes at Buddy’s Italian Restaurant in Pocatello.
Wafts of his grandmother’s signature recipes filled the bijou bistro as he relentlessly worked to keep enough clean dishes and silverware in rotation to meet demand. He succeeded, yet the restaurant still had to shutter its doors about three hours early on opening night as it was also the first time in Buddy’s history the eatery sold out of absolutely every item on the menu.
“All the food, beer and wine — all of it — gone,” Piper said.
Not much has changed for the quintessential Pocatello restaurant, which celebrated its 60th anniversary on Tuesday. It’s still situated in the quaint space at 626 E. Lewis St., still serving the same recipes Piper’s grandmother and the original owners brought with them when they immigrated to Pocatello from Italy in the late 1920s, and sometimes, it’s still busy enough that certain menu items are sold out well before closing time.
“Man, if only these walls could talk,” Piper said about the stories to have accumulated within Buddy’s over six decades. “Thank God they can’t because so much has happened over the years.”
Buddy’s — in customary Italian tradition — has always been about family, and Buddy’s family extends much further than bloodlines. Though the restaurant has been passed down within family for generations, the eateries’ true family consists of the generations of Gate City residents to have passed down their affection for Buddy’s Old World spaghetti sauce, famous Italian salad dressing or signature sausage sandwich (of which the latter is still Piper’s favorite dish 60 years after it first hit the menu, so long as it comes with all the fixings and he has a bowl of spaghetti sauce on the side for dipping).
Piper’s 28-year-old stepson and the restaurant’s current general manager, Cody Stufflebeam, will mark the fourth generation to assume Buddy's helm when Piper finally decides to take off his chef’s hat.
Buddy Face, the restaurant’s namesake, and Bill Guido started Buddy’s in 1961. Guido became the sole owner in 1963 and then handed the restaurant down to Piper’s mother, Julie, in 1970. When she died in 1986, Piper assumed control and has been the owner ever since.
Piper’s grandparents were very close with Guido’s and Face’s parents, and collectively used their families’ recipes to develop the Buddy’s menu. Aside from removing the flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate, better known as MSG, from its iconic Buddy’s salad dressing in the late 1960s, every recipe is exactly the same as it was generations ago, Piper said.
“Everybody was freaking out about MSG in food years ago so we decided to take it out,” Piper said. “But that is the only thing to change on our entire menu. Bobette Heath has been here for over 40 years and she learned how to make the recipes straight from my mother.”
Piper has added menu items over the years, including steamer clams, pastas made with salad dressing instead of sauce and even lasagna, but has never removed an item from the menu, he said.
“We have yet to take anything off,” Piper said. “Every time I want to take salami cheese off someone goes and orders two or three of them.”
Buddy’s has also had its fair share of celebrity diners over the years, including Nadia Comăneci, a Romanian gymnast who was the first to receive a perfect score of 10 in an Olympic event. Piper also remembers serving former Chicago Bears Linebacker and NFL Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher and the band that Idaho Falls man Nathan Apodaca helped put back on the map in 2020 with his cranberry-drinking, longboarding TikTok video, Fleetwood Mac.
And when he says the Buddy’s salad dressing is world famous, it isn’t just a sales gimmick. For decades, Piper has sent pints and quarts of the dressing as far away as Europe and China, with Hawaii being one of the most memorable U.S. destinations.
“I once had a bride call and ask to get a case of quart jars shipped out to Hawaii for her wedding,” Piper said. “She called on a Thursday and the wedding was the following Friday, eight days away. I told her I didn’t think it was going to make it time, so she had me air freight it over. The cost of shipping alone was over $750.”
If Buddy’s had a secret ingredient to its success, it’d be consistency, Piper said.
“Our consistency, our quality and how we treat the public has been the key to our longevity,” Piper said. “You take those qualities and pair that with our mainstays — the dressing, our sauce and sandwiches — and it keeps people coming back.”
Buddy’s staff is currently in the process of developing merchandise designs for the 60th anniversary and are planning a proper celebration for sometime this summer in hopes the COVID-19 pandemic has let up. And since the walls can’t talk, Buddy’s has invited you to leave your favorite memory of the restaurant in the comment section of a Tuesday Facebook post, accessible by visiting tinyurl.com/mnsvy888.
“We want to thank all of our customers that have supported and continue to support us to be able to keep providing our food to the community over the last 60 years,” Buddy’s wrote in the Facebook post. “We hope to keep providing more memories, great food, and ‘Buddy’s Breath’ for all for another 60.”