Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Perry Frank Cuda wears a green bandanna and a blue chef’s coat in the kitchen. He’s preparing a large to-go order and the meals of the first 10 or so customers trickling in as the doors open at 11:15 a.m. on a recent weekday.
Cuda opened Perfectly Frank’s six years ago on W. Doty Street in Summerville, before moving a block away to North Main three years ago. The restaurant has garnered national attention.
When Cuda, 51, left Summerville nearly three decades ago to play football at the University of Alabama he wasn’t sure he would return. After nearly three decades working in restaurant in Georgia, he did, and the support he has received from Summerville has been gratifying.
“There’s two things in Atlanta you see everywhere – fish tacos and hot dogs,” Cuda said.
When he didn’t see that in Summerville, he decided to open Perfectly Franks.
The restaurant has exceeded all expectations at a time when “everyone wants everything quickly,” and when local restaurants must compete with chains that have deep pockets.
“We couldn’t have made it without the local support,” Cuda said. “We opened the doors and it was crazy. Everything took off really fast.
“I was a sous chef at a country club in Macon. Everything you garnish a steak with, you can put on a hot dog.”
One day he received a phone call from the Food Network. He thought it was a prank.
“We were on the Food Network? Where did that come from? They have to receive 5,000 emails to even consider you.”
He asked his wife if she told customers to send emails, but she said she hadn’t.
The episode of “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” was filmed in the fall of 2011 and can be seen at the restaurant’s website, www.perfectlyfranksonline.com.
“We get a phone call and, all of a sudden, people think I’m a genius. People say, brilliant idea,” Cuda says, pausing for a few seconds. “I’m not smart.”
Cuda defines luck as hard work meeting opportunity. He works at Perfectly Frank’s four or more days a week, he said.
“Owning a restaurant cuts into some family time,” Cuda said, adding he is always looking to spend more time with his wife and two children, ages 18 and 12.
Cuda’s staff has little turnover, he said.
“I go behind everybody,” he said. “I cut fries. The staff I have here knows what I want from them.
“I’m a clean freak. They clean the bathrooms 20 times a day.”
Most of the hot dogs are named after famous Franks, such as Sinatra or Lloyd Wright.
Frank is Cuda’s middle name but he goes by his first name, Perry. The name runs in his family.
His favorite hot dog is the Frank Cuda (a.k.a. ‘Bama), named after his grandfather. This dog is topped with chili, cheese, blue cheese slaw, bacon and crispy onions.
“I like the flavors, how they blend,” Cuda said. “Salty, sweet, all rolled into one.”
It was featured on the Food Network, along with other items on the menu with stars by them.
His work with the restaurant has helped him make his mark on Summerville – but Cuda’s contributions to the community go deeper.
“He’s constantly giving to different organizations locally and a lot of people may not realize that,” his wife Julie said. “He gives back to everyone when he can. We’re just so blessed that he does that.
“He gives to everybody ... that’s who Perry really is. He doesn’t have to know them. That’s how he’s been for 22 years.”
There are 15 organizations Cuda gives to regularly, including the Miracle League of Summerville, the SPCA and Juvenile Diabetes.
“He’s a kind, giving person and will do anything for anybody at anytime and doesn’t expect anything in return,” Julie said.
Cuda grew up with a group of lifelong friends who played sports together from the time they were boys through high school.
By the time they played for the Green Wave football team in the late 1970s and early 1980s they knew each other well. Cuda was the quarterback.
That Green Wave team scored 41 consecutive wins from 1978-80, still a state record, and won 53 of 55 games.
From his days on the high school football field to “Perfectly Franks,” Cuda has made his mark on the town of Summerville.