Wally & Buck bring local, grass-fed burgers to new downtown diner

Wally & Buck founders Travis and Kelsey Walnum opened a modern diner on Front Street last month in hopes of providing Missoula with unique, grass-fed burgers. (Mari Hall/Missoula Current)

Travis and Kelsey Walnum want to do one thing and do it really well. Their modern diner is simple but unique, with a single focus on fresh, grass-fed burgers.

Wally & Buck began after the pair turned a camper into a kitchen in 2015 to flip burgers with bacon jam and their secret Wally sauce outside Kettlehouse Brewing Co. on Missoula’s south side.

Now they’ve opened a diner downtown on Front Street and want to keep the 10 items on the menu, including fries and salads, simple, environmentally sound and uniquely flavored.

“We’re usually the people who are checking out the new place,” Travis Walnum said. “We’ve been here seven days a week since we’ve opened, and we’re missing that right now. It’s really bizarre to know that we’re a focal point for some people out there and that there’s talk about it.”

The business sources all of its grass-fed beef from Oxbox Cattle Company in Missoula, sells locally brewed beers and ciders, and plans to use more produce from local sources as well. Restaurant staff smash the burgers to keep them juicy and flavorful and serve them on a toasted bun.

Travis and Kelsey Walnum in front of a painted rendition of their original food trailer. (Mari Hall/Missoula Current)

The business name merges both Travis Walnum’s name and Kelsey’s maiden name, Buckley.

“I think we are doing something a little bit different in the food scene of Missoula. Aesthetically, we look a little different and the food’s really simple but really great quality,” Kelsey Walnum said. “It’s just exciting to see it all kind of coming together and we’re so grateful that we have this opportunity.”

Travis Walnum worked a day job as a graphic designer, while Kelsey Walnum worked as a school-based mental health specialist. One day, they decided they wanted to start a brand, and came up with the idea of making simple but high-quality food.

When a metal camper in Darby came up for sale, they bought it on a whim.

“Once we did that, we never turned back,” Travis Walnum said.

Travis began throwing pizza dough as a teenager in New Hampshire and as he got older, worked and managed in the fine dining industry. Kelsey’s background in social work provides communication and networking skills to advance and market the restaurant.

So far, the restaurant has been successful, with many customers lining up to have one of the famous Wally & Buck burgers.

Wally & Buck’s most popular burger, the Wally, made with bacon jam and their signature Wally sauce. (Mari Hall/Missoula Current)

Right now, the Walnums are working to have longer business hours and stabilizing the restaurant.

“We’re trying not to bite off more than we can chew, which is a great pun for the conversation,” Travis Walnum said, smiling. “I think we can be pretty ambitious and open for lunch right away and do these long days and have late nights. We’re pumping the breaks and making sure everything’s dialed in.”

The Walnums want the restaurant to give back to the community and eventually hope to reopen the food trailer. In the meantime, they’re keeping it simple.

“A long-term goal is to sustain and be a business that does well in Missoula, that supports Missoula’s growth and to be community oriented,” Kelsey Walnum said. “We want to be here to stay, and I think that’s our long-term goal.”

Mari Hall is a reporter for the Missoula Current and can be reached via email at mari.hall@missoulacurrent.com.