By Chris Sturgis
Frank Prihoda is an enterprising guy.
After graduating Trenton High School in 1969, he started his own electrical contracting business by day and got a job as electrician at the General Motors auto parts plant by night.
Along the way, he cultivated a taste for real estate and acquired some investment properties, apartments and commercial buildings.
“I always dreamed of owning a restaurant, and so I sold one of my apartment buildings to buy this place,’’ Prihoda recalled.
‘This place’ is the Hurry Back Inn, and his break came last year when a friend told him it was for sale. He remembered it from when Leonard Pagano and his son, Rocky, ran the place.
Leonard Pagano was a member of Post 93 of the American Legion, which held its meetings at the restaurant.
Prihoda, 54, said the restaurant and bar lost their appeal when Rocky died in December 2004, followed by his father, Leonard, a month later. The surviving Paganos tried to keep the place going, but to Prihoda, it wasn’t the same.
In August 2006, Prihoda bought the restaurant, which seats 100 in the dining room and 40 at the bar. He got rid of the pool table to give the place a family atmosphere and bought a 110-inch projection television and seven flat-panel sets to draw sports enthusiasts to the bar.
Other changes followed, such as a new floor in the bar, new ceilings in the dining room and fresh paint on the walls. Prihoda is not sure how old the building is, but he guesses it’s over 100 years, based on the construction.
He said he’s heard the building, which currently has a stucco exterior with Tudor details, was fashioned from an old house or perhaps by joining two together. It’s been witness to a lot of history, near the former New Jersey State Fairgrounds and the former Trenton Speedway.
“It’s an old landmark, but now it’s a new place with a new atmosphere, a new identity,” Prihoda said.
“I’m trying to restore it to its original splendor and take it a step further,” he said.
Unlike Hamilton’s newer restaurants, which are located at shopping plazas or on highways, the Hurry Back Inn is part of a residential neighborhood.
In addition to the dining room, which seats 100, and the bar, which seats 40, it has an apartment on the second floor.
“I thought it had a good location,” he said. “It’s right next to the train station redevelopment area.”
Prihoda changed the name to Frank’s Hurry Back Inn and brought aboard a new menu and a new chef, Andres Quihpi, who has a full repertoire of Italian dishes such as vodka rigatoni and pizza. Steaks, chops and seafood are also available.
Prihoda says it’s the kind of restaurant he likes, with “good food at reasonable prices in a great atmosphere.”
Prihoda said he didn’t study the food and hospitality industry before diving in.
“I’m crazy. I thought, How hard could it be? Now, I know,” he said. He has joined Hamilton’s newly formed Restaurant Association.
Prihoda drives from his home in Chesterfield to the restaurant at 10 a.m. to open for lunch, and sometimes finds himself wrapping up loose ends until 3 a.m., an hour after the bar has closed.
Prihoda has three sons. The eldest, Frank Jr., has a masters degree and bachelors degree in electrical engineering from Drexel University and works for the Department of Defense in Virginia.
Prihoda’s son Christopher is majoring in biomedical engineering at The College of New Jersey. For now, his youngest son, Kevin, a junior at Hamilton High School West, is helping out in the kitchen, cooking up pasta sauces and baking pizzas.
Prihoda said it’s nice to work with his son, but he won’t mind if Kevin lays down his ladle and goes to college like his brothers. Prihoda didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps, either. Frank’s father, John R. Prihoda, was chief of the Trenton Police Department from 1970 until 1990.
Frank’s Hurry Back Inn, 310 Klockner Road, Hamilton, is open weekdays from 11 a.m. until 10 p.m. On Saturdays, there is karaoke in the evening, the restaurant is open from noon until 10:30 p.m., Sundays from 11 to 9 p.m. The bar is open until 2 a.m. every day.
The lunch buffet is open from 11 to 3 p.m. and the dinner buffet is open from 5 to 10 p.m. The lunch specials start at $5.95 and the dinner specials start at $9.95. The phone number is (609) 587-4232.