Immediately popular when it opened in 1995, Big Buck soon expanded to Auburn Hills, Grand Rapids, and Texas.
Then bad times hit. Both Grand Rapids and Auburn Hills shut down and the company filed for bankruptcy in 2004.
But with a new management company and a new focus, things appear to be on the upswing.
“I think we’re moving off the steakhouse image to focus more on the liquid products,” said owner Joel Flowers.
After his company acquired Big Buck in 2006 and he became equity partner in 2008, Flowers reestablished the brand as a distillery, making what he calls “super high-end” products.
The spirits are made in small batches and retail for as much as $50 a bottle.
“We’re amazed at how much we sell,” he said. Big Buck brand spirits include a half-dozen rums, three gins, eight liqueurs, two whiskeys, Scotch, and a host of vodkas.
Beyond the distillery, Big Buck also has its own line of wines, made from grapes grown around the country. Pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, black cherry cabernet and green apple Riesling are all on the menu.
The list of Big Buck’s signature refreshments doesn’t stop there: Sodas, cocktail mixers, waters, even energy drinks round out the group.
Big Buck is not stepping away from its reputation as a steakhouse, offering a complete assortment of greens, appetizers, sandwiches and more.
The beer wings are spun in Big Buck’s own beer buffalo sauce, while Scottish eggs are wrapped in chorizo sausage, bread crumbs and onions and served with a house brown mustard.
From the grill, choices include ribs, chicken, shrimp, or burgers, served with a sauce enhanced by Big Buck liquids. Other options include pasta or pulled pork quesadilla.
Given Big Buck’s origin as a steakhouse, that’s still what many of the customers come in for. Beef lovers can opt for sirloin, delmonico, tenderloin filet, or prime rib, all of which can be served Cajun or blackened, or topped with mushrooms, sautéed onions, or gorgonzola mushroom sauce.
Of course, Big Buck still brews its own beers.
Head brewer Travis Charboneau says as far as he is concerned, the best brew is the Big Buck Naked.
“It’s hard to brew a light beer, and this is a real German pilsner,” Charboneau said about the best-seller. “People underestimate it. It’s stunning. It’s malty, real solid.”
On the menu, Flowers says the steaks are always a popular choice, but he thinks the best items may not even be on the menu. The daily features give the culinary staff the opportunity to explore their imaginations.
“They get to create something they’re really proud of,” he said.
Assistant manager Debbie Mosher reserves her praise for the meatloaf cupcakes: two jalapeño meatloaves with a citrus chipotle BBQ sauce, topped with whipped horseradish white cheddar mashed potatoes.
“It starts out sweet and ends up spicy,” she said.
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Flowers believes the ever-increasing number of establishments creating their own brews, wines and spirits across the region is not dividing the customer base, but increasing it.
“I think it’s helping everybody out. The customer is getting more sophisticated, whether it’s a funky beer or an IPA,” he said. “It’s great to see the craft side [increasing], whether it’s beer or wine or distillery. Rather than cutting the pie into smaller pieces, we’re making a bigger pie.”
Flowers is committed to upgrading the beverages at Big Buck, as he believes the restaurant’s future growth depends on its beer, wine and spirits.
Sandwiches start at $9.99; steaks at $18.99; and entrees at $18.99.
Big Buck is open Mon.-Thurs., 11am-9pm; Fri. and Sat., 11am-10pm; and Sun., 11am-8pm.
The restaurant is located at 550 S. Wisconsin Ave. in Gaylord. Call (989) 732-5781 or visit bigbuck. com or its Facebook page.