Rustic Crust has shown its hometown devotionBy RYAN O'CONNOR
Sunday News Correspondent April 22. 2018 10:38AM
PITTSFIELD - Brad Sterl admits he still has an uneasy feeling whenever he travels out of town for a conference.
"I'm always kind of waiting for the phone to ring again," he said.
Four years ago, when Sterl was on a business trip to California, he got a call informing him that his Rustic Crust pizza factory in Pittsfield had burned down.
Sterl, CEO of the company, continued to pay his employees during the shutdown, and three weeks after the fire, he resumed operations, renting space at a warehouse down the road to continue producing Rustic Crust ready-made pizza crusts and frozen American Flatbread pizza for sale by grocery retailers.
Then, less than a year later, he had rebuilt and reopened at the same 19 Barnstead Road location, in the process increasing the building's size by 30 percent to 27,000 square feet.
Now, three years removed from that landmark achievement, Sterl said business has been strong and employment has increased nearly 40 percent.
"We went from about 100 employees at the time of the fire to (close to) 140 employees, and we're still hiring," he said. "Overall, I think we recovered very well. We've added five or six new products since that time, and we've expanded our distribution area into several islands, Hawaii and Canada."
More importantly, Sterl said both the company and the town are seeing the payoff of his commitment to keep the business in town.
"We had become a big piece of the community, and the majority of the employees were from here and surrounding towns, and that was a dominant factor with us staying here in Pittsfield," Sterl said. "That's led to continued loyalty from our employees, and it's been great for the community because we now have two facilities in town, so we're paying more taxes and we're not only still employing, but we're bringing more people to town to work."
The Main Street warehouse, which was converted to maintain operations four years ago, is now used primarily for overflow and specialty and private-labeled products. The company's new facility was built primarily with noncombustable surfaces and designed with expansion in mind, said Sterl.
"We're running at 25 to 30 percent of our capacity, so we still have plenty of room to grow before we max out," he said.
And despite the undeniable short-term financial loss due to the fire, Sterl said his company is now better positioned for long-term success.
"It was definitely a hit we took, and we are fortunate that we are now much bigger than we were at the time of the fire," he said. "We continue to grow, and more than anything else, we have a very loyal customer following, people out there who enjoy our products and keep us in business every day."
Linda Small, a member of the Suncook Valley Regional Development Corporation, said Rustic Crust's economic impact on the community is immeasurable.
"After the would-be devastating fire, the town of Pittsfield worked closely with Rustic Crust to keep them up and running, including the approval of an application for a tax incentive under NH RSA 79e, a savings that Rustic was able to reinvest into its business," she said. "The upside for Pittsfield is that Rustic has proven itself to be an asset well worth the investment."
Likewise, Louis Houle III, Greater Pittsfield Chamber of Commerce president, said Rustic Crust is a significant contributor to the community.
"It is not just the jobs provided or the property taxes paid," he said. "It is the support given to local vehicle mechanics, our restaurants and retailers by the company and its employees, that has helped to improve our community."
Pittsfield Selectman Jim Adams said the combined impact of Rustic Crust and Globe Manufacturing Co., a major producer of firefighting safety gear, has helped keep the town afloat.
"At one point, when I was a young lad growing up in this town, we had four large shoe shops, two grocery stores and all sorts of other businesses in town," he said. "We had 2,000 to 3,000 people working in this town everyday, and of course, having those businesses certainly helped our tax structure.
"But nowadays our tax base is about 90 percent residential ... so having Rustic Crust in town has been good all around," Adams said. "After the fire, it would have been very easy for them to go somewhere else, but they stayed, and we appreciate that very much."