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Friday, August 15, 2014

Pittsfield pizza maker holds groundbreaking in original spot after fire

With the sun shining, the crowd smiling and the pizza chefs slicing, the scene at 31 Barnstead Road yesterday was worlds away from the night of March 7.

That night, in the cold and the dark, employees and Pittsfield first responders watched in silence as the home of Rustic Crust smouldered into ashes after an accidental fire. ...

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With the sun shining, the crowd smiling and the pizza chefs slicing, the scene at 31 Barnstead Road yesterday was worlds away from the night of March 7.

That night, in the cold and the dark, employees and Pittsfield first responders watched in silence as the home of Rustic Crust smouldered into ashes after an accidental fire.

But, as Gov. Maggie Hassan told CEO Brad Sterl at yesterday’s ground-breaking for a new facility, “the building burned down, but I don’t think the company missed a step.”

Sterl said he never thought about not rebuilding, or about not rebuilding faster than anyone said was possible. He said he hopes to have the new facility open in October.

“If I believed what everybody told me, I would never have started a business in the first place,” he said.

Despite the destruction of his company’s main location, Sterl paid all of his employees through the spring and even hired about 25 more temporary employees to work out of a temporary location in town.

“It was the right thing to do. Too often, people are looking just at the bottom line,” he said. “But it’s not just about the bottom line. It’s people that drive the business. At the end of the day, I’m stuck with either a profit or a loss, but it’s not just me that gets us there and it’s not just me affected by it. It’s all these people.”

Sterl, who lives in Bow, used the ground-breaking ceremony as an opportunity to launch a national campaign to benefit first responders.

In recognition of their work, the company will donate Rustic Crust and American Flatbread frozen pizza to fire departments and emergency services departments in New Hampshire and around the country when they hold fundraisers or other events.

Yesterday’s event was the culmination of five long months of sleepless nights for Sterl, said his wife, Marissa.

“I’ve never known an entrepreneur before I knew Brad and you don’t realize when it’s your company, it’s your life. It’s your legacy. You’re not only thinking about yourself, but thinking about the 100 other people relying on you,” she said.

The community’s response to the rebuilding effort “is amazing. It’s so humbling,” she said.

The new building will be 27,000 square feet on two floors, about 30 percent bigger than the old one. The project will cost the company about $2 million more than what Sterl expects to receive in insurance coverage for the old facility, he said.

Abutters have filed a suit in Merrimack County Superior Court to contest variances the town granted the company for the expansion.

“It’s been great watching them get ready to rebuild, and to see them rebuild here. There’s not a community out there that would not want Rustic Crust in their town,” said Pittsfield Town Administrator Michael Williams. “But they’ve had to jump through the same hoops as any other business, and we stand by the decisions of the (planning and zoning) boards.”

The petitioners and their attorney could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.