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Rustic Crust employees back at work afer fire damaged Pittsfield pizza business

Union Leader Correspondent

April 09. 2014 8:02PM
Bishnu Acharya is one of roughly 100 Rustic Crust employees who were paid in full the three weeks between the fire that destroyed the longtime bakery and the opening of a temporary facility at 5 Main St. in Pittsfield. (RYAN O'CONNOR PHOTO)

PITTSFIELD - Three weeks. That was the timetable Rustic Crust President and CEO Brad Sterl set to resume production after assessing the seemingly insurmountable damage left in the wake of a four-alarm March 6 fire that destroyed his 18-year-old Pittsfield business.On Monday, employees at Rustic Crust returned to work in a temporary pizza bakery set up inside the company's Main Street warehouse facility, less than a mile from the site of the fire, where two piles of rubble and an excavator remain.The previous pizza bakery was roughly 15,000 square feet, and the company used its warehouse primarily for storage and distribution. Now, 10,000 square feet of the 65,000 square feet warehouse has been converted to a bakery, and an additional 10,000 square feet is being used as a freezer.'We had three people want to quote on it, but basically it came down to, 'If you can't get it done in three weeks, let's not even talk,' Sterl said. ' Mark Carrier Construction stepped up, and over the last three weeks, they've pretty much worked around the clock to make this happen.'This was the equivalent of building a full building inside a building,' he added. 'It would normally take anywhere from four to six months to do this, so it's amazing how fast this came together.'

Though plans are still in the works, Sterl said he hopes to cut the ribbon on a 20,000- to 40,000-square-foot facility by October.'We're looking at the location where we were. Ideally, we'd like to rebuild there, and now it's just going to be a matter of what size building can we put there and are there going to be any new restrictions,' he said. 'We'll probably know in the next two weeks, and if something happens where we can't build there, we'll still try to do something local to keep us close to where our employees live.'In the meantime, it's back to business for the company, which was founded in 1996. Sterl said he plans to begin shipping product again by month's end.

In an effort to take care of his 100 employees, and to retain them to begin working again as soon as operations resumed, Sterl continued to pay each worker through the month since the fire.Many took advantage of training sessions and other activities during the down time, he said, adding that he plans to hire 15 to 25 more employees in the coming months, as business dictates.

'Most of (the employees) will be back to work full-time by the end of this week, and we'll start running 24 hours a day, seven days a week to catch up, and we're kind of hoping by the time we hit August we'll be able to slow down a little bit, to maybe six days, and then kind of run from there and see how it goes.'Sterl said the temporary facility is currently running with one line, but plans to build to three in the next couple weeks.

'By the time we have all three lines running, we'll be able to produce everything we did in the old facility,' he said. 'It's a little bit of a smaller space, but we should be able to hit the same capacity level that we had in the other building.'The outpouring of encouragement and assistance since the fire, both locally and around the country, has been overwhelming, Sterl said.

'We couldn't have done this without our employees and their family support. I mean some of these guys are working round the clock as well,' he said. The way so many people pulled together to help us out is really amazing.'We're on track, we're back, and it's amazing to see a company like this back up and running after three weeks,' he added. 'It's unheard of.'

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