For Paul Busuttil, Bar Business Was Just the Beginning

Busting at the Seams

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Tucked next to the cash register is a dog-eared notebook that has been inscribed like a guest book by many hands. It’s a log book that might best be called a grog book.

On its pages, regulars, employing the honor system, keep track of how many beers they have downed at Buster’s Beer and Bait on their way to 69. Customers reaching that milestone are rewarded with a personalized china beer mug bearing a “handle” assigned them by the proprietor.

Michael Booini

Paul Busuttil

Michael Booini

“You don’t have to consume the beers all at one sitting,” clarifies bartender Carmin Baxter. “We don’t want anyone getting into trouble. But the first guy to get to 69 got there in a week.”

They don’t call him Dave anymore.

Nor was Paul Busuttil always “Buster.” It was the call sign given him in the course of a 28-year career in the Air Force in which he specialized first as an aircraft mechanic. He went on to complete Officer Training School and graduated to service as an air battle manager working with the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS, known affectionately as “America’s War Against Common Sense” among people who know it well) and the Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS).

A South Florida native, Buster completed six tours of duty in the Middle East (Afghanistan and Iraq), earlier spent time in Kosovo and discovered North Florida when stationed at Tyndall Air Force Base.

How does a battle manager become a bar owner?

Buster long harbored a desire to become a self-employed businessman and entrepreneur. Attending night school, he tacked a master’s in business administration from Emory Riddle onto his bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland. And, when he retired from the Air Force, Buster was in an acquisitive mood.

With a Veteran’s Administration loan, he purchased a long neglected liquor store at 5900 Thomas Drive in June 2012 and transformed it into a cheers bar where a seemingly endless supply of war, fishing and other conquest stories are swapped.

“I got a steal on it,” grins Buster, whose affect is that of a big teddy bear, but whose neck and biceps suggest that he could go grizzly if he had to.

About 90 percent of his customers are local and the majority of them have military backgrounds, but everyone is made to feel welcome.  Buster’s serves the Regency Towers condominium across the street as a sort of adult-beverages annex.

His advanced degree and nearly three decades spent working for what he calls “the world’s largest bureaucracy” notwithstanding, Buster found that nothing prepares you completely for going into business.

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