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Eye On | Buddy La Fleur’s — Diners get what they like and expect

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Buddy La Fleur's restaurant in Wenatchee on Monday, Dec. 19.

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Not many waitresses dedicate most of their life to the restaurant they worked in, but for the last 46 years, Leanne Leonard has done just that for Buddy La Fleur’s.

I started out as a counter-person, back in the days where we wore white uniforms white little aprons and headbands,” Leonard said. “I learned to work the kitchen, and then I became an assistant manager. It just snowballed from there. The more responsibility I had, the more I liked it.”

Leonard purchased Buddy’s, on Wenatchee Avenue, back when it was still a part of the Arctic Circle chain. Not wanting to change the experience customers had become accustomed too, she kept most of the menu items and expanded their options.

 “A lot of things have changed, but as far as things that are expected, like service to the public, has stayed the same,” Leonard said. “All the things that people really liked, like the fry sauce, we kept.”

 The menu wasn’t the only thing that was expanded after Leonard took over. The original building had been so small that a motorcyclist could zip through one door and out the other — and one did.

These guys held both doors open and a guy rode the motorcycle through,” Leonard said. “The original owner banned him for a while. Another guy streaked through, and the plan was that his friends would pick him up on the other side. Instead, they waved and drove away and left him in the middle of the parking lot.”

Experiences with customers is the driving force behind Leonard’s passion for Buddy’s.

Any time you’re in this type of business, what keeps you going is the public,” Leonard said. “It’s the interaction with people, you really need to be a people person to enjoy this kind of work. It can get old doing this type of work, but the customers make it all worth it.”

What brings those customers through the door is the food’s quality and consistency. Buddy’s offers everything from burgers, to chicken fettuccine, to chicken fajitas, which are all made at the restaurant.

We serve everything fresh,” Buddy’s manager Bernadette Harper said. “We don’t have old burgers sitting around. We have fresh mushrooms, we have fresh lettuce. We make our sauces, fry sauce, hamburger sauce, all of it.”

It’s the same mixer we made fry sauce in 50 years ago,” Leonard added.“ We take care of things around here.”

Maintaining the food’s quality can provide its challenges to the business, however.

The bottom line is that we make less, but we want to offer a better product,” Leonard said. “I don’t want to ever feel bad about a customer coming in here and eating one of our products. It costs us more coming in the back door, but it’s important.”

Buddy’s has a strong base of repeat customers that make the consistency aspect of their food of even greater importance. The restaurant still offers old-fashioned milkshakes made with hard ice cream.

The customers notice. If you change your burger patty, they’re going to notice,” Harper said. “If you change your fries, they’ll notice.”

If we change our fry, they do not like it. They want our fry, with our fry sauce,” Leonard jumped in. “Those same people might get different fries somewhere else and that’s okay, but they don’t want it here.”

Another aspect of Buddy’s that draws customers is the family atmosphere that its staff creates.

I think that we really emphasize making a connection with a customer,” Leonard said. “We try to train our staff to treat them like guests in their home.”

The customers that Buddy’s attracts come from widely varying walks of life.

We have older couples that have been coming here since it first opened,” Leonard said. “We have grandparents, and their children, and their children coming in here. During lunch, we get working people.”

Staff are trained to be warm, welcoming, and to remember every customer’s name.

People can go anywhere to get a burger, so we’ve got to do something different,” Leonard said. “We tell the employees that they have to make the difference. It’s remembering the customers, and I swear Bernadette knows most of the people in the town.”

Buddy’s has a core staff that trains up new recruits and helps them get accustomed to the expectations.

Veteran employees work with the newer ones to get them adjusted,” Leonard said. “It’s something we do side-by-side, we just let them learn by seeing what the more experienced employee is doing.”

Leonard takes pride in providing a place for high-schoolers to work and get job experience.

I feel like we have helped a lot of young people,” Leonard said. I’ve had past employees tell me that working here was the best experience for them because it taught them so many things, like to be responsible.“

A challenge the business has encountered is the influx of new businesses that have set up shop in Wenatchee over the years.

Years ago, this place would be packed until 1 a.m. during Apple Blossom, but times change,” Leonard said. “There are a lot more places in town, now, and that means people are more spread out.”

Despite the increased competition, Leonard said that business has increased overall due to more people eating out than when she first took over.

It’s not a whole of up-and-down,” Leonard said. “There are times where we are busier, but there used to be times where we would take real hits during the year. Now, we stay pretty steady all the way through.”

Another challenge that has caused the Buddy’s staff some anxiety is issues with equipment.

One time, we had two furnaces go down at the same time in the middle of winter,” Leonard said. “We’ve been blessed to have some great service people who come in and help us out as quick as they can.”

No matter the adversity, Buddy’s has also pulled through with support from the community.

I feel good about the public and the support we have had,” Leonard said. “When you get discouraged, it’s the regulars that keep you going. We really are thankful for the support they’ve given us for many years. Our customers feel like family to us.”