Rusty Bucket Gains Some Polish In Makeover

Chain shifting its focus to family dining, warmer features

The Rusty Bucket opened a restaurant in Easton Town Center last week at 4052 Gramercy St., featuring a family-friendly style that will serve as a prototype for new Rusty Buckets.

“It’s a new, improved design for us,” said Gary Callicoat, Rusty Bucket’s president. “We have enhanced and warmed the place up quite a bit.”

The space is heavy on woodwork and has a fireplace. The bar, which had been the heart of Rusty Buckets built in the past, is less central to the restaurant.“

We really are a family establishment, and we do target the family market pretty aggressively, so it made sense,” he said.

The Easton restaurant, located by the soon-to-open American Girl doll shop, will have special high chairs for dolls. “They are small and clip to the end of the table so the dolls can sit at the table,” Callicoat said.

The new Rusty Bucket is much lighter on bar signs and heavier on historical community artwork and photos. The process of updating the design began two years ago, when the economy was bad.

“We wanted to grow but felt we needed to be ready and positioned for growth, and that meant making sure the ambience and menu were right,” Callicoat said.

The Rusty Bucket plans to open three more restaurants this year and four in 2014, in cities including Cincinnati; Naples, Fla.; Pittsburgh; and Charlotte, N.C.; and in Michigan. The company is in the midst of remodeling its existing restaurants to reflect some of the newer features in both the Gahanna and Easton locations.

The menu also is getting a face-lift.

Each Rusty Bucket soon will offer a series of limited-time special menus. “We did it last year for about 10 weeks,” Callicoat said. “We called it the throwback menu, and we brought back items that we had taken off the menu in the past. They were popular, so we’re bringing them back. It’s one way we can add more variety.”

The Easton restaurant is serving a few items not on most other Rusty Bucket menus, including mussels sauteed in white wine sauce with focaccia for $8.99; a Thai steak salad with grilled beef tenderloin, udon noodles and mixed Asian vegetables for $13.99; and a double bacon cheeseburger with caramelized onion, cheddar cheese, bacon, lettuce, tomato and roasted garlic aioli for $10.29.

“We are updating menus,” Callicoat said. “We put new items on and then see if something else sticks out like a sore thumb. The industry is pushing toward fresher ingredients and fresher products, fresh herbs, and our food and bar menu need to reflect that.”

In a bid to cater to families, Rusty Bucket is bucking the beginning of a fringe trend in the restaurant business. In recent years, restaurants from Singapore to Pennsylvania have banned or restricted children. In 2011, McDain’s restaurant in Monroeville, Pa., banned children under 6. Grant Central Pizza in Atlanta banned crying children after customers complained. An 18-and-older-only sushi restaurant is set to open soon in Alexandria, Va.

“That will never happen at Rusty Bucket,” Callicoat said. “It’s shortsighted to alienate kids from restaurants. Kids make a lot of choices about where families eat. And for us, we open restaurants in affluent suburbs and bedroom communities, and it’s important for entire families to be included. We want families to feel like if Dad wants to have a beer and watch the game or kids want to stop on the way home from a soccer game, Rusty Bucket is safe and inviting for the entire family.”

In addition to high chairs for dolls, the Rusty Bucket is wooing the family set with the Bucketeer Book Worm reading program. Kids can pick up a reading tracker at the restaurant, log the books they read and get a free kid’s meal after they’ve read five.

“One reason Easton was so interested in us is because we are tied to the family market,” Callicoat said. “Easton is a family-driven area. It fits very well for our culture.”

Denise Trowbridge Columbus Dispatch | June 11, 2013