Remembering Hensel “Buck” Heath
In March 2021, we bid farewell to a great friend and the brilliant mind behind Buck’s Restaurant, Hensel “Buck” Heath. Buck was a larger-than-life personality, someone who took pride in making people happy and could always find a way to bring a smile to the faces of his coworkers and the diners alike. We were fortunate enough to catch up with two people who knew and loved Buck – Buck’s Restaurant’s current proprietors, Curtis Rader and Lisa Imrie – to learn more about the man behind the restaurant.
Curtis first met Buck when he was thinking about buying the restaurant. “It wasn’t until later that I got to know him well though,” remembers Curtis. “Buck had just moved back to Louisville from Marathon Key and was looking for a job. He still loved the restaurant, so I hired him to manage our lunch service, which was brand-new at the time. Not many people could work together the way we did as current owner and previous owner, but we formed a wonderful friendship over the course of eight or nine years.”
Buck was a truly unique person, with a heart for making people comfortable and a knack for building relationships like the one he had with Curtis. “He started Buck’s and ran it for seven years, mostly relying on other people’s expertise,” Curtis says. “Nobody else could have survived with his business model – he had to borrow the money for the liquor license just to open the doors. In fact, they couldn’t afford to rent the entire space that the restaurant is in now, so they wall off the entire back half of the restaurant to save money. The people who owned the Mayflower at the time really wanted to see Buck succeed because they loved him so much, so they let him do it.”
Lisa also remembers ways that Buck built relationships through the restaurant. “He loved getting to know his customers,” she says. “The older ladies would come in and they wouldn’t be satisfied with anything until Buck had come over, given them a white flower and made sure they had everything they wanted.” Years after Buck’s cancer diagnosis, the regular customers would still ask about him regularly.
“People will always remember his generosity,” Lisa says. “He had such a big heart – he truly did – and he genuinely loved people. He always wanted people to laugh and feel good.” In fact, Buck had a library of funny sayings that he would share in order to help his coworkers and guests enjoy themselves.
“He always had a joke or a Buckism to make you smile,” says Curtis. “For example, if we were really busy, he’d come up and say ‘Oh boy, we’re churning butter now,’ or he’d elbow you and say ‘Cheer up, Christmas is coming.’” In fact, you may have noticed framed Buckisms hanging around the restaurant. “If we’d had a big night and you asked Buck how many we’d done, he’d just smile and say ‘All of ‘em,’” says Lisa.
“You’d always be in for it when he came up to you and said, ‘You know what we oughta do...,’” agrees Lisa. “He always had silly ideas for making a dollar and you wouldn’t always know if he was serious.” In fact, one thing that Buck always said he was going to do was donate his body to science. “We just thought it was another Buck joke,” says Lisa, “but then we found out he actually did it. He donated his body to the University of Louisville.”
That was just the kind of man Buck was. “His legacy is this restaurant,” says Curtis. “He loved this place and it was the first time he had ever done anything like that. He put everything – his talent – into that. He wasn’t the best business owner or manager, but the things that are in that restaurant are Buck.”
“He envisioned all of this,” Lisa agrees. “Who else would mix all this together in a restaurant? He put it together based on his own life’s work. During his time in a florist’s shop he fell in love with white flowers, and here they are. He loved and worked with antiques and you see them in the restaurant now.”
We hope you will join us soon for dinner or lunch and raise a glass in the memory of a remarkable person who will be forever missed in our community. Buck would have wanted you to smile.