On March 6, 2014, SJF Ventures portfolio company Rustic Crust, an all-natural pizza product company based in Pittsfield, New Hampshire, suffered a disastrous fire that burnt its only production facility to the ground. No one was hurt but production and national supply were halted. The company had been on track for record monthly sales at the time.
Rustic Crust was founded in 1996 and is the number one U.S. national brand of natural prepared, ready-made pizza crusts. American Flatbread, the company’s other branded product, is a market leader in natural frozen flatbread pizzas which are available in supermarkets, health and gourmet stores nationwide. The company is Pittsfield’s second largest employer.
After the fire, the company and its senior leadership responded quickly and communicated not only with its customers, brokers and investors but also with its workers and local community. More than 100 employees were called to a meeting with CEO Brad Sterl. Sterl announced that although production had stopped, all employees would continue to be paid during the rebuilding.
“Everybody here probably expected, ‘Hey guys, you are out of work,’ and that’s not what I wanted to have happen,” Sterl told WMUR News. “I saw relief. I saw comfort. You looked around the room, people were like, ‘Wow.’…We have really amazing employees here. That’s why I wanted to do everything I can to take care of them, and it’s hard to see where they’d be if they didn’t have a paycheck.”
“I’m overwhelmed. I just, it’s very generous of the company to take care of us, such a large number of us,” Ben Cattabriga, a Rustic Crust employee, told WMUR News.
“Oh, it’s awesome. I can’t tell you how awesome,” said another employee, Paul Stearns.
Employees and the local community rallied around the company as it hustled to first set up a temporary production facility and then later construct a new permanent facility. Sterl reported overwhelming offers of assistance from across the state of New Hampshire.
Rustic Crust’s 28 products were back in production after just 30 days. The company lost $4 million in revenue during the down time. Its employees, expanded by 30, worked seven days a week to make up for it when temporary production facilities were opened.
A September 2014 article by USA Today reported:
…an active participant in the community, Sterl’s years of relationship building paid off. Permits were secured faster, construction firms met the aggressive timeline, bankers stepped up to fill the gap in funding. Employees stayed with the company, and even used the down time for training and planning for faster growth in the future.
A new $8 million two-story, 27,000 square-foot production facility, 30 percent larger than the original structure destroyed in the fire, was constructed on the site of its former factory in Pittsfield and began production in December 2014. The company was fully insured to cover the costs of the temporary and new production facilities. Despite the fire, the company still grew revenue by 25 percent from 2013 to 2014.
Sterl told The Concord Monitor he chose not to relocate the new facility, even though moving into a vacant warehouse 30 or 40 miles from Pittsfield could have saved Rustic Crust $1 million.
“The workforce is part of this community,” Sterl said.
“It would have been a disaster if they left,” Ted Mitchell, chairman of the Pittsfield’s economic development committee, told the newspaper.
The Concord Monitor also reported Sterl’s goal to grow the workforce “from 150 employees to 200 in the next three years. Two-thirds of employees live within 10 to 15 miles of work. Others come mostly from Rochester, Concord and Manchester.”
Rustic Crust has demonstrated not only its product impact as an all-natural and organic pizza product company but also its strong social performances with its workers and local community.