Who is Hamilton’s 2021 Citizen of the Year? A pinball fan and businessman

Pinball Garage owner Brad Baker plays the brand new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pinball game Thursday, June 25, 2020. Pinball Garage is now open in downtown Hamilton and offers a large selection of pinball machines to play along with a bar with rotating beer selection. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

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Pinball Garage owner Brad Baker plays the brand new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles pinball game Thursday, June 25, 2020. Pinball Garage is now open in downtown Hamilton and offers a large selection of pinball machines to play along with a bar with rotating beer selection. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Fairfield native Brad Baker, who owns a company that makes digital pinball games, and also the Pinball Garage bar at 113 N. 3rd St., has been named Hamilton’s Citizen of the Year. He will be celebrated at the Greater Hamilton Chamber of Commerce’s annual dinner Jan. 28.

Baker hit national fame in 2016 when he pitched his business, VPcabs Virtual Panel, to the celebrity investors on the television show “Shark Tank.”

That business continues, although it has slowed significantly because of lacking computer parts during the COVID-19 pandemic. But Baker more recently launched Pinball Garage.

Much of the reason he was named citizen of the year was for his generosity with people and other businesses.

“He has done more fundraisers to help local businesses than anyone around,” says the submission from Jeff Archiable, who nominated Baker.

One example of that generosity: In July, Pinball Garage hosted “Cars for Gavin,” to help car-lover Gavin Ward, 16, of Northern Kentucky, who had an inoperable brain tumor and spent the day before he died enjoying dozens of them there.

“I got to spend some time with Gavin, and he was the happiest kid I’ve ever seen,” Baker said. “He got to sit in every car, and he revved the engine. He was able to get out of his wheelchairs and sit down in cars.”

“Gavin died the next day,” he said.

Baker’s company makes digital pinball games that look like traditional pinball ones, but have high-definition digital screens with computers in them “and you can play any pinball game ever made on one machine,” he said.

Another reason cited in Baker’s nomination for the award: He led the effort to help brides who were planning to have wedding receptions at the new Hanover Reserve banquet facility that was severely damaged by fire in October.

ExploreHanover Reserve fire: Area businesses offer to help those suddenly lacking a wedding venue

Baker protested that as a reason he deserved the citizen-of-the-year honor: “All I did was make a Facebook post,” he said. “Honestly, the local business community is who really stepped up and did their magic. I just became a vehicle for everyone to see, I guess.”

“We made a couple posts and we started getting businesses that were messaging us that they wanted to help, so we made a couple of posts where we tagged all of those businesses and what they were willing to do, and it kind of took over from there.”

Pinball Garage offered a tent for displaced weddings that might find it helpful, “and two people took us up on that,” he said. Other businesses found couples other venues, with one woman alone telling him “she helped over 12 brides find places and get everything fixed for their weddings in a short amount of time. So there’s a lot of other people who did all the hard work and made it really awesome.”

Rather than reflecting him, he insists, it shows the goodness of local businesses and the community at large.

He’s also starting a program called The King’s Plate, where people are asked to donate money to help feed the homeless or other needy who show up at Pinball Garage and can’t afford a meal.

ExplorePinball Garage already planning expansion in Hamilton: What it will do

“We’re going to feed people, regardless of if people kick in or not, but it will allow us to do more, and feed more people,” he said. “So we set the bucket out, and we’ve gotten hundreds and hundreds of dollars just in the past few weeks.”

“As people come in and can’t afford a meal, they just go to the register and ask for the King’s Plate and they can order anything on the menu, and we take it out of those funds or just pay for it ourselves.”

Along with individuals, a couple of families have been fed, and Pinball Garage also takes food out to nearby areas where homeless people are. They also will be working with Mark Mills’ Helping Hamilton Ministries, which feeds 80-100 people on weekends, Baker said.

Baker will be celebrated at the Jan. 28 event at the Courtyard by Marriott in Hamilton.

Other developments with Pinball Garage:

  • Plans and engineering drawings have been approved for the expansion of the bar into another part of the Pinball Garage building, and areas were being painted. When that expansion happens, there will be significantly more seating, cafeteria-style, with 30 more pinball games and high-end meat sandwiches provided by Baker’s food truck, BrisketologyBBQ. There also will be an indoor/outdoor bar with a granite top. He hopes it will be open this spring.
  • BrisketologyBBQ, now is open Fridays through Sundays and serves high-quality brisket and other meats. One popular item is the Godzilla dog, a quarter-pound steam-fried frank loaded with brisket, cole slaw, barbeque sauce, jalapeños and cheese. The company soon will be working with DoorDash to deliver its food.
  • Baker’s wife, Katrina, and he bought three oceanfront penthouse-level condominiums at Daytona Beach Resorts in Florida, and filled them with pinball machines that they rent out via Airbnb this summer. “The owner of the resort found out about it and asked us if we wanted to take over his bar and put in a full Pinball Garage location.” The 350-room resort has about 1,000 guests every week, “so we said, yeah, we’ll do that.” He expects to have that open by February. The condos are called the Daytona Beach Pinball Penthouse, and are on Facebook.

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