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Jeff & Tom from the Horny Toad

Meeting Cave Creek by Kimberly Gunning

The Road to the Toad

Like father like son: The owner of The Horny Toad restaurant is not the first generation of his family to run a restaurant, and he says he won’t be the last.

Jeff Price’s grandfather, then his father, ran The Red Vest restaurant in Grand Haven, Mich., on the shore of Lake Michigan, and a restaurant called The Bear Lake Tavern in Muskegon. Young Price worked as a bus boy and helped out with odd jobs around the restaurants. He attended Davenport College in Grand Rapids, earned a degree in hotel and restaurant management, then returned to work for his father at The Red Vest.

Price’s father surprised him one evening more than 40 years ago by stomping into the house, irritable but resolved. He aimed straight for the bedroom and emerged with an armful of his ties, dumped them in the trash and announced that he and Jeff’s mother were “out of there.”

Jeff stayed in Michigan to manage the Red Vest, but once his parents reached Rio Verde Arizona and decided it was the right place to settle, he got a phone call from his father. “Pack up all your stuff, son. Join us as here as quick as you can.”

In August 1975, the family bought The Horny Toad and more than four acres of land surrounding it. They heard that many of the business owners of Cave Creek doubted whether a Michigan family had the savvy to successfully run a restaurant in their wild west town. They did!  

The Price family began with one small bar and a dining room with a dozen tables. Over the next 40 years, they transformed the property into several large dining rooms, an expansive patio, and several gift shops behind the restaurant they leased to local business owners.

The Horny Toad is noted for its crispy fried chicken. Managing partner Price says the restaurant has sold 2.5 million pounds of it. He also attributes The Toad’s success to its homemade barbeque sauce and in-house battered and fried fish.

The décor of The Horny Toad reflects its owners’ interests: framed and signed sports and western memorabilia and a bar top that has supported countless bent elbows. 

“Anybody’s welcome here,” says Price. “Bikers, families, retirees, cowhands  Dick Van Dyke and Charles Barkley have dined here.”

It’s not only a restaurant for everyone. The staff has become Price’s second family. In fact, many of his kitchen and front of the house staff members have been with the company for more than 20 and 30 years. Price’s son, Tom, is next in line to take over the operation. “He’s probably going to end up doing it better than me; he’s just a natural at it,” Price says with pride.

Entering his 40th year at The Horny Toad, Price says that, when the time comes, he will enjoy more excursions on his Trask Harley. He also plans to take a long sailing trip to the Bahamas or the Caribbean. When asked about selling the restaurant, he doesn’t blink an eye.
“It’s a family thing,” says Price. “My son will be the fourth generation to manage it. You seldom hear that in the restaurant business.”

jeff & tom price

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