Paris firm is big cog in Hunt Brothers, the king of rural pizza
Paris You can’t miss the pizza.
The formal name of the company is Pizza Wholesale of Lexington. But the 25,100 square foot building is in Bourbon County, and the pizza being wholesaled is Hunt Brothers — the culinary salvation of many a traveler across the United States who find themselves in a remote area with limited food options and an enterprising convenience store with a pizza oven serving up a custom Hunt Brothers pie.
The Hunt Brothers pizza brand’s has a popular “all toppings no extra charge” value proposition for its consumer, who may be either snacking or buying a full meal; large pizzas are around $10, while a 1/4 pizza “hunk” is around $3.
In addition to its pizza lineup, the company also offers items such as chicken wings, cheese bread and breakfast pizza with egg and cheese. It’s currently testing a spicy sriracha pizza that will wake the taste buds of the nearly departed.
Customers are often males 18 to 40, but Hunt pizza also markets to time-pressed mothers and is making an appeal to fishermen with a contest that includes a boat grand prize. Hunt Brothers operates with a complicated structure that involves distributors large and larger; it’s in 29 states and more than 7,000 locations.
The company benefits from offering a food option to those who believe, correctly or not, that convenience store food consists of aging franks revolving on greasy rollers.
You also can’t miss the company philosophy, which appears in giant letters on the side of the Paris building: “Place God first in all we do, be a blessing to people, trust God to meet our needs, strive for excellence.”
Hunt Brothers pizza was indeed started by the four Hunt Brothers, including Jim Hunt, who died in January. Two of Jim’s eight children, Erin and Adam, work for the company at its Paris location. Erin is co-CEO, and Adam is director of customer relations.
They grew up with the pizza business, unloading trucks and shredding cheese. Erin Hunt Ferguson said that the company’s Kentucky roots extend back to 1969 when Lonnie Hunt developed northeast Kentucky; her father, Jim Hunt, began developing the eastern Kentucky territory in 1976.
The Hunt Brothers pizza organization operates via three master distributors that serve the entire United States — in Paris, Nashville and Cincinnati. Beneath them is a network of other distributors.
Ferguson’s company serves a little less than half of the Hunt Brothers locations.
In Paris, the company ships pizza ingredients from a warehouse and freezer (set at a frosty -14 degrees) in which there are more olives and mozzarella than you will ever see again; crusts are flash-frozen before any yeast can rise to be baked at a store later. A team of scouts is on the lookout for expansion locations, combing the mom-and-pop stores of America.
Although you will find Hunt Brothers Pizza in cities, it’s really in its element in rural markets.
Ferguson said her company is going to expand its Paris location to include a tasting kitchen. Thirty-two people work at the Paris pizza complex, although the area’s distributorship employs 160 team members. Including all those employed by Hunt Brothers would up the number to 470.
The company is looking to grow in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin, Ferguson said.
“We’re in a growth phase, and truly in a continuous improvement phase for our company,” Ferguson said. “Our niche is underserved markets.”
Tim Ernst, the director of human resources at the Paris plant, said that the family and faith ethic is carried throughout the business: “We don’t just pay lip service to it. It is our culture.”
Said Ferguson: “We’re food-conscious as a family. What an ingenious idea my father and his brothers came up with.”