Fishers’ business owner shares childhood trauma, his path to success
By Beth Taylor
Joe Peterson believes God has always been present in his life, and has given him the ability to survive challenges that began from birth, persevere through an abusive childhood and create two successful businesses.
Peterson was born in 1939 in Philadelphia, Penn. His widowed 29-year-old biological mother had seven children before Peterson was born. Unable to support them, she placed the children in foster care. Peterson was placed in ten foster homes before his fifth birthday.
“I was adopted by Harry and Dorothy Peterson when I was five years old. My adoptive father decided to move his company, Crown Chemical, to Indianapolis to be closer to the steel industry in Gary, Ind. in 1946. That’s how we ended up in Indianapolis.”
He remembers being happy to be out of the foster care system, but the woman he called “mother,” Dorothy Peterson, inflicted emotional torment and physical abuse. He wrote about his childhood experiences in his self-published book, “The Adopted Son.”
“It was 74 pages—about a page for every year of my life. I wrote it for my kids, because there was a lot about my childhood that I hadn’t talked about. I felt like my kids needed to know how I was able to persevere. We all have to cope with things we don’t wish for ourselves,” Peterson said. “And I thought maybe I could help someone who had something similar happen or who was going through bad times to see that there is hope and things can work out for the best.”
Peterson believes that his four years at Cathedral High School helped to mold his character, so he gives back to the school any chance he can.
“Any proceeds from the sale of the book go to help with scholarships,” he said.
While at Cathedral, he enjoyed chemistry class the most, which he planned to continue studying in college.
Peterson’s studies at Xavier University ended in 1957 when his father died unexpectedly. He returned to Crown Chemical to take over the business, in part, to support his mother. He holds nine patents for steel pickling and acid recovery and has helped to develop over 50 products.
“We create an iron supplement for vitamins and baby formula that is sold to other countries,” he said.
He met his wife, Marilyn, on a blind date in 1969.
“Marilyn was the roommate of an ex-girlfriend of mine—that’s how we met,” he said.
They dated for three months and got married. Almost 46 years later, he thinks that honesty and good communication is their key to a successful marriage.
“Any marriage has its ups and downs, but she was a trooper,” he said. “Marilyn and I always worked together to raise the kids and never pulled in opposite directions,” he said.
Peterson quietly entertained the idea of establishing a fine-dining restaurant that combined a warm ambiance with impeccable customer service–qualities he enjoyed when dining in restaurants during years of business travel.
He found the perfect location right across the street from Crown Technology in a newly constructed Fritsch’s Big Boy that closed when the restaurant chain left Indiana. “I thought it was the perfect location, right off of I-69,” he said.
He and Marilyn were vacationing on Grand Cayman Island when his accountant called to tell him that his offer had been accepted. “I was very hesitant about going into the restaurant business—and almost wished I hadn’t answered that phone call,” said Marilyn Peterson.
Sixteen years later, with incomparable quality and an award-winning Napa Cab-focused wine list, Peterson’s restaurant stands out from the abundance of chain restaurants that line the 96th Street corridor in Fishers.
“My reputation is important to me at Crown and at Peterson’s. I always want people to say, ‘he’s giving the best he knows how to give,’” he said.
Meet Joe Peterson
Class of 1957 Cathedral High School graduate
Family: Wife, Marilyn; Four kids and eight grandchildren
Hobbies: Peterson’s restaurant; Gardening; spending time with grandkids
Favorite menu item at Peterson’s: 8oz filet, medium to keep flavor. Lobster tails.
Joe Peterson’s book, “The Adopted Son” is available at Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, Xlixbris.com.