For four years, Missoula foodies raved about the "Wally & Buck Burger.” Back then, to find it you had to follow the smell of sizzling beef coming from a retrofitted camper parked in the side lot of Kettlehouse Brewing. Inevitably, after taste buds had been tantalized and stomachs settled into contented bliss, the next question became: Who are Wally and Buck? The title comes from a combination of the last names of owners Travis Walnum and Kelsey Buckley, a local couple with a love for quality and community.
In 2019, after working out of their camper for four years, Travis and Kelsey opened the Wally & Buck restaurant. Located across from the old Missoula Public Library and a stone’s throw from the new location, Wally & Buck was the first business to move into the commercial block on East Front Street. From outdoor seating to the indoor space, the restaurant’s look and feel is Missoula modern, accessorized with tradition and story. In the seating area, a large Red Angus cowhide covers one wall. “When we had our food truck, we served that entire animal,” said Travis.
Transitioning from a food truck to brick and mortar wasn't a huge stretch—thanks to Travis's extensive background in the culinary industry. “I’ve had many years of experience in restaurants, going back to my teens when I scooped muffin batter and washed dishes,” he said. “I just swam upstream from there. Every new opportunity kept me going.”
When it came time to build the menu, Travis and Kelsey stayed true to their vision of making the best burger in Missoula. "We decided from the very start to hyper-focus on one thing, to do one thing and do it well," said Kelsey. The star of the menu is The Wally—a 10-finger burger with a flirt of bacon jam. The Wally is grilled “smash-style” with a quarter-pound ball placed on the grill (instead of a flat patty). This technique does a better job of locking in the juices. “It’s a nod to the classic, drive-thru style burgers with a culinary twist,” said Travis.
They understand that Missoulians know local, so Travis and Kelsey make every effort to ensure their ingredients are sourced in ways that maximize both sustainability and economic impact. “Local and sustainable are prerequisites for everything we source,” Kelsey said. “Because our customers are so educated about local, healthy food, they can see the quality without us needing to explain it. When we’re considering our items, we try to make decisions that support area suppliers and respect the environment. For our burgers, we use Oxbow beef out of Missoula. They practice regenerative farming and their values align with ours.” Even the drink selection meets those higher standards. “When we’re choosing the drink menu,” said Travis, “we consider the carbon footprint of trucking beers from all over the country. So, we’ve decided to offer only Montana-made beers.“ “Except Rainier,” said Kelsey. “We always have that as a homage to my dad.”
As with most of our city’s establishments, the people are the secret ingredient. Wally & Buck is no exception. “We have all ages and types of people come in and we still see a ton of regulars from our food truck days. I love that our staff takes the time to get to know our customers. Most of us know each others’ names," said Kelsey. For Travis, it’s been humbling to go from a food truck to a full-blown restaurant. “We couldn’t have done it without our community and staff,” he said.
From those foodies at Kettlehouse to today’s hungry downtown crowds, Travis credits the nature of Missoula’s culinary scene for allowing Wally & Buck to grow without sacrificing quality. “The Missoula market is still small and there are lots of opportunities for restaurants. Perhaps, like anything else, the more effort you put in and the more well-rounded your business is, the more likely you are to create an experience that people really enjoy.”
A Smashing Good Time
319 East Front Street
Facebook: Wally & Buck
Hours of Operation:
Monday through Thursday and Saturdays 4 to 9 p.m.
Fridays 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Indoor and outdoor seating are available
“Local and sustainable are prerequisites for everything we source." - Kelsey