Teaming up for success

With seven new employees, The Peerless Restaurant is on track to have its most successful year on the books since opening in the late 1990s.

"It just keeps getting better and better," said Crissy Barnett, owner and founder of The Peerless. "The biggest difference is the team we have at the restaurant now. It's really a team effort. We are all going toward the same goal of serving our customers."

The Peerless Restaurant, which opened in 1999, has 15 employees, including new lead chef Steve Breckenridge, who said the team mentality at the restaurant is really the key to their success.

"What's working for us now is we can work together and have a forum to discuss things," he said. "We have a place to talk."

Despite recent rumors, Barnett said she is not interested in selling The Peerless.

"I am very happy where I am. I have a great staff and great support," she said, adding that it is essential to be surrounded by the right people in order to be successful.

"It's hard to find the right fit in general," she said. "There are so many variables in a restaurant to keep and check, it's important to have the right people to oversee those variables."

Barnett opened the restaurant in '99 after buying The Peerless Hotel next door a few years earlier. As the sole owner of the restaurant, Barnett has worked to improve her service every year.

"It's a very competitive business. So if you are a competitive person, you are always striving to be the best," she said. "There's always room to improve and you never quite reach the top."

And to help maximize the restaurant's success, she allows her staff to do their thing. For instance, Breckenridge and his other chefs are allowed to use their creative juices to cook up a daily special for the guests.

"It's always fun to see what they come up with," Barnett said.

Breckenridge said this job is his first opportunity to really work with his sous chef, Mark Carter, and take control of the kitchen while still working closely with Barnett and the rest of the staff to find the best way to serve the public.

Other changes made this year have also helped boost sales for the restaurant.

New outdoor seating has been added, as well as new landscaping to give the place a more comfortable feeling.

The restaurant is now open from 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. seven days a week.

"It was just time to do it," Barnett said. "We had a number of phone calls to provide dining on Sunday and Monday, and I finally have the staff in place to be able to serve those two extra days."

Besides the service, Breckenridge said the new menu's quality is what really sets The Peerless apart.

Using old-world techniques and high-quality base products, such as fresh meats and homemade pastas, The Peerless is capitalizing on people who want to eat healthier.

cutting down on cream sauces and butter, Breckenridge allows the true taste of the food to prevail. He will cook a veal stock for at least three days to create the most tender and tasty meat dish available.

"We try, like everyone else in this town, to be as organic as possible. I try for never-ever products that have never been given pesticides," he said.

Breckenridge encourages guests to ask their server about where their food comes from.

"It's always been my vision to have a kitchen that teaches people. We like to teach the public as well as people on the inside," he said.

All of the additions and improvements have helped Barnett and her team rise to the top of the Ashland restaurant business.

"They say that the restaurant business chooses you and it's true," Barnett said. "It's like putting on a production, a performance every night."

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