With 105 years in business, Peerless Ovens continues to rise by turning up the heat

Everyone’s heard the saying “they don’t make ’em like they used to.” 

“It does not apply to us,” says Bryan Huntley, owner of longtime Sandusky business Peerless Ovens. 

“In 1919,” Huntley says during a recent phone interview, “we began selling ovens, and a couple of the ovens that we made in 1919 we still make. And they’re (among) our most popular ovens.”

While Peerless Ovens actually dates back to the late 1800s, when the Beverly Peerless company was based in Columbus and sold residential gas stoves and fireplace inserts, Huntley focuses on its 105 years serving the restaurant industry, which it's done from Sandusky since relocating in the early 1940s.

He’s been around for roughly half of that century-plus, working at Peerless as a teen in the summer when his parents, Jim and Barbara, owned the business. 

Courtesy of Bryan HuntleyBryan Huntley poses with a Peerless oven at the 2024 International Pizza Expo & Convention.“I was putting ovens together at 15 years old,” he says. “There’s nothing I don’t know about these ovens.”

If anything, he says, Peerless in the last 15 years has made ovens better than they used to.

“When companies are run by accountants and attorneys and they’re chasing the almighty dollar, they’ll cheapen the product,” he says. “My belief is the opposite; what we’ve done is add value and quality to our product.”

In fact, he’d like Peerless to conjure thoughts of those old Maytag commercials suggesting the Maytag repairman was lonely because the products never broke down and thus the phone never rang.

“I can’t say that our appliances don’t ever break,” Huntley says. “But our goal is to (reduce) our service issues as far as we can possibly reduce them.”

While Peerless sells more pizza ovens than anything else, it makes a wide range of products, some with applications for industries outside the food-service realm, including some used by manufacturing companies.

“To say that we’re just a pizza oven company is not fair to the company,” he says. “We’re an oven company.”

He adds, “We make big ones, small ones, gas and electric ones, single-stack, double-stacks. Our newest thing – and I got us into this a couple of years ago – is ventless electric ovens.”

Courtesy of Bryan HuntleyThe Peerless Ovens team poses for a photo at the 2024 International Pizza Expo & Convention.With more than 20 employees, Peerless is a much bigger company than the one he bought years ago from Mom and Dad.

“We do 10 times more sales than we did,” he says. “We have 10 times more employees.”

That has meant putting an increasing number of commercial ovens into the world.

“I think last year, we did 700 units, and we’re going to try to do 1,000 units this year.”

In fact, Peerless has what you might consider the good problem of struggling to keep up with demand.

“It can be a bad thing because people are upset sometimes they can’t get the stuff they need and they just want to open the restaurant – and we know that,” he says. “We’re doing our best. We’ve upped production.”

It would seem Huntley’s efforts to get the Peerless name out there since he took over the company have been largely successful. 

“It’s like Kleenex or Frigidaire – you’ve got to build a brand, so that’s been my focus.”

He uses what he calls a “marketing umbrella” that includes attending trade shows such as the International Pizza Expo and the IAAPA Expo, which is for amusement parks and other attractions, and PeerlessOvens.com

“We built a fantastic website,” he says. “It’s very much driven toward the consumer. We don’t sell direct, but we market direct.”

Courtesy of Bryan HuntleyPeerless Ovens made an appearance at the International Pizza Expo & Conference.With a handful of distributors and products available via the WebstaurantStore, Peerless sells nationwide and into Canada, Mexico and a bit beyond, although he says they don’t do much business in Europe. Although they typically do not sell to the type of restaurant chains that line U.S. 250, Peerless ovens can be found in myriad independent restaurants, as well as hotels, the occasional sports arena and, increasingly, food trucks. 

“We’ve done a ton of food trucks,” he says. “We’re very big into mobile food.”

Is there a next generation to take over the business at some point as he did years ago?

“My children are not interested in my business – if that’s what you’re asking,” he says with a laugh. “I’m not really sure what the next chapter holds except I do know that I want the brand to continue.”

Highlights for Peerless Ovens in recent years include the company’s centennial celebration in 2019 and Huntley’s induction in 2022 into the Erie County Chamber of Commerce’s Business Hall of Fame.

Huntley, who describes himself as “a tinkerer by nature” who enjoys rebuilding cars and boats – and as a boater himself very much enjoys living in the Sandusky area – isn’t sure when he’ll retire but says that’s not imminent. 

In the meantime, he’ll continue to work on another goal: to get more area businesses to go Peerless, as some such as Firelands Winery – which is featured in a testimonial on the Peerless site – and the Sandusky Bay Pancake House have. 

“At Sandusky Bay Pancake House we are all about Eat. Drink. Think. Local,” says owner Steven Schuster, in an email. “Nothing is more local than Peerless Ovens! We are a high-volume restaurant who pushes the oven from before we open until we close. The Peerless oven is consistent and strong.  We could not have made a better choice AND it's local. I can't believe all the local restaurants are not using this quality oven.”

No doubt those words are music to Huntley’s ears. 

“There are a lot of (local) businesses,” he says, “and we would like to see every business in town that needs an oven buy a Peerless oven.”