HUNT BROTHERS PIZZA
Over 50-plus years, Hunt Brothers Pizza has grown from a wholesale pizza route to a c-store powerhouse.
In 1962, having grown up working in the restaurant of their father, four brothers—Don, Lonnie, Jim and Charlie Hunt—began a local wholesale food route they named Pepe’s Pizza. At first, they distributed par-baked pizza crusts, dough balls and other pizza items, then visited restaurants, taverns, bowling alleys and drive-in theaters—anywhere they could make pizza. The brothers branched off one by one to start their own distributing businesses, and Pepe’s (by then serving 36 cities) was sold in 1981. But in 1990, the brothers searched for how they could become more than just wholesale food distributors, and a new company was formed: Hunt Brothers Pizza (huntbrotherspizza.com).
“The distribution systems that started in the ’60s became the foundation for what we have today,” explained Erin Hunt Ferguson, daughter of Jim Hunt and now co-CEO at Pizza Wholesale of Lexington, a distributor of Hunt Brothers Pizza, in 2012. “The business was started just to feed our families.”
Hunt Brothers Pizza shops—installed in convenience stores, country markets, bowling alleys, arenas and stadiums—are now known for their “all toppings, no extra charge” tag line and successful NASCAR sponsorships. But in the early days, many people in rural areas didn’t know what pizza was, so pies were baked on-site to encourage sampling. “Poking pizza in people’s mouths has been our strategy from day one to open up new locations and bring in new sales,” Ferguson said. “We still bake pizzas for business owners and consumers.”
She also stressed that faith has always been a key factor in the business, and thus the company has a strong sense of giving back. Hunt Brothers continually reaches out to communities, helping families recover from natural disasters (and delivering pizzas for those affected), working with churches and school groups, and offering an organized fundraising program to help businesses raise money locally. “Our successes have been filling a need in the convenience store industry, especially in rural America, and attracting great people with a servant’s heart,” says Ferguson. “Our open communication stream—from the founders to all team members—still centers around how to be a blessing to people and what ‘striving for excellence’ looks like.”
By Tracy Morin