Ex-Buckeye has his fingers in a lot of pies (and cakes) as he seeks to honor his family
Part of the foundation for Kenny Peterson's success was laid during his time as a defensive tackle for the 2002 Ohio State team that upset Miami to win a national title.
But there were signs he was destined to be an entrepreneur way before that.
"We used to watch my mom work two to three jobs at a time," Peterson recalled.
One of those jobs was at Burger King, and Peterson's mother would often bring sandwiches home for the family. Having found a hamburger in the fridge on a snowy evening, Peterson ate it, as any nine-year-old would, only to later find out it was meant to be his mother's lunch the next day.
She didn't raise a fuss at all, but Peterson was distraught.
"I knew she was going to go to work hungry, and it hurt my heart to the bone," Peterson said.
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Unable to afford gloves, he said the next morning he put socks on his hands, grabbed the only shovel the family owned (even though it was not a snow shovel) and started going door-to-door to clean off neighbors' driveways.
He handed his mom $65 at the end of that day.
Once he made it into the NFL as a third-round draft pick with the Green Bay Packers, he was able to provide for his family even more, but he knew that wouldn't last forever. Being highly competitive by nature, his NFL career ended even sooner than it otherwise might have.
"If I couldn't get out there and put my hand in the dirt and play the game (the way I wanted to), I didn't want anything to do with it," he said.
Although he started for the Denver Broncos in 2009, he hung up his cleats after he was released the following year. However, leaving on his own terms did not make his exit any easier.
"It was a very, very tough transition," he said. "I went into a slight depression. Didn't realize I was depressed, but I definitely was. I didn't leave the house for probably three months minimum. I couldn't watch ESPN. I couldn't do anything associated with sports."
He developed anger issues and sought out counseling to deal with them.
And he went into business.
He bought a beauty salon in Denver, but got bored with it. He moved on to selling and assisting with the operating of medical equipment for a company he co-owns, KP Medical, because it provided him with the type of challenge he sought.
"I would sit there and look at YouTube videos of surgeries, and I would literally just sit and listen to the words they were using," Peterson said. "I would write them down, even though I spelled every one of them completely wrong."
His specialty was equipment used in spinal surgeries, which is perhaps ironic given that playing in the NFL left him in need of a still-yet-to-be-performed back operation himself.
One morning while visiting the office of a doctor he was doing business with, he tried a bundt cake and loved it. This would lead him to his next venture.
He Googled and saw that the bakery that made it, Nothing Bundt Cakes, was blocks away from his house, and he ordered a box.
"I started eating them," he said, "I reached over to grab another cake, and the box was empty. And I said, 'Wait a minute. Did I drop one?' And so I'm looking all over the floor, like, 'Wait a minute. This can't be my life right now.' So I counted all the little wrappers and said to myself, 'You just ate 12 cupcakes.' "
He bought more. Then he decided to buy a store. He looked into whether there was a franchise available in the Denver area. There were none. So he checked into the Columbus area. He thought it would be great to own a Nothing Bundt Cake shop in the campus area.
The woman he was discussing franchise opportunities with said that wasn't a possibility either, but they were looking to open in North Canton. Given that's where Peterson grew up, he said he regarded this as a sign that it was God's plan for him to sell baked goods.
He now owns locations in Canton and Akron.
He expanded his portfolio further, and his next purchase was again the result of a piling up of circumstances.
During COVID, his work was deemed essential, so he wanted to be tested to avoid "bringing any cooties" back to his mom. The drive to get a rapid test took so long, he decided to open franchises in Canton and in Akron that perform not only those tests, but other lab work.
And he's not done. Looking to capitalize on the popularity of esports, he's planning to buy some Contender Esports gaming centers.
Peterson admits keeping busy has helped him cope with the loss of his grandfather J.D. Peterson, grandmother Susie and stepfather, Charles Frazier, all since 2017.
He gets emotional recalling how his grandparents helped raise him. He shares that after a cross was burned in his yard when he was around 5 years old, they hosted a dinner with "white people and other races" invited the next night.
"It was a way for them to teach us about love, and my grandmother used to tell us love has no color," Peterson relayed, "She said, 'Baby, love who you want to love, regardless of what anybody else says.' Those kind of lessons stuck with me."
He said it was his stepfather who offered the family enough stability for Peterson to pursue sports.
That, above all, is why he works so hard today.
"I just want the Peterson name to be synonymous with success," he said.