The story of Petrock’s is an interesting one. It is a story that involves several different variations of a business that currently shares one name, yet exists as two separate entities.
According to Bonnie Petrock, who owns , and her brother Nick, who owns next door, the legacy of Petrock’s in Hillsborough began in 1961 when the duo’s parents opened up a liquor store and small bar, which was unique for its time in Somerset County.
“We were probably one of the first liquor stores in the area, except for a couple small stores around here,” Nick Petrock said.
Things stayed that way until 1977, when the liquor store expanded into a more modern form and the bar portion of Petrock’s, due to health issues of its owner and other, insurance-related issues, closed for an extended period of time.
“My dad was asthmatic. The bar was a smoking bar at the time," Bonnie Petrock said. "When he put the addition on the liquor store, he made that non-smoking, and they were still smoking in stores at that time. My father closed the bar because every time he would walk in here, he’d get sick. At the same time, (around) 1978 or 1979, liquor liability started coming around. The insurance was sky-high for bars. The laws were not really good, so my father, I think, just had a lot of foresight. He kept the store open; he was a man of principle more than anything (even though), having a bar open, you’re going to make more money.”
It was not until 1992 that Petrock’s Bar and Grille, in its current incarnation, re-opened as a non-smoking restaurant. In doing this, Petrock’s was way ahead of its time; a public smoking ban was not instituted in New Jersey until 14 years later in 2006. Still, Petrock’s was unafraid to stand out.
“I thought it was a personal thing; there are a lot of bars, small shot-and-beer joints, where (smokers were) their business,” Bonnie Petrock said. “A lot of those places went out of business because of that non-smoking law. We were the pioneers of that. That was my father’s wish; he actually passed away in 1989, and he actually was talking about re-opening the bar before he died.”
Today, Petrock’s remains a Hillsborough staple. Known for its friendly customer service and the restaurant’s convenient location in proximity to the liquor store—a door within the building actually connects the two—it remains a popular destination for those looking for a good night out.
“Some people come over here for dinner and go over there shopping,” Nick Petrock said. “That happens all the time.”
Both the liquor store and the restaurant make a large amount of contributions to the community, donating to many local organizations, including school groups, the Somerset Valley Players and volunteer organizations, such as local fire companies and boy scout troops.
“Where (the liquor store will) donate is to all the firehouses. We sponsor all of them for any golf outings and any kind of fundraisers they have,” Nick Petrock said. “I donate soda and ice to boy scouts, to 4-H. If anybody ever came in to ask for anything they needed, I always help them out in some way.”
Bonnie Petrock added, “(The restaurant will) donate pretty heavily in the schools, with any sport that comes up. On occasion, we’ve done a couple fundraisers for friends of people that had cancer in the past.”
To Bonnie Petrock, donating to community organizations is more than a nice gesture—it is an obligation of small businesses throughout Hillsborough and beyond.
“I just say, ‘no spiel, just give me the paperwork.’ I don’t need that; I’m going to donate anyway,” she said. “I think it’s just important that businesses donate, and I see a lot that people don’t. I almost feel like it’s a responsibility of the businesses.”
The siblings can also agree on another responsibility of a small business, even one as well-established as Petrock’s: quality customer service and care.
“Even though we’re reopened here for 20 years, constantly I’m watching to see that the customers have service,” Bonnie Petrock said. “It never ceases. Never. Not in my eyes. It’s just important. That’s what you’re here for.”