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Rustic Crust readies to rebuild at original location on Barnstead Road in Pittsfield

Bal Gautam, left, and Til Chouhan, survey what's left after a fire destroyed the Rustic Crust pizza business in Pittsfield late Thursday night into Friday morning. Both were employees of the company for 3 years along with Gautam's wife, Bishnu Gautam, who began working there about a week ago. The town's water supply was depleted cancelling school on Friday as around fifty firefighters responded to the four-alarm fire.

(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

Bal Gautam, left, and Til Chouhan, survey what's left after a fire destroyed the Rustic Crust pizza business in Pittsfield late Thursday night into Friday morning. Both were employees of the company for 3 years along with Gautam's wife, Bishnu Gautam, who began working there about a week ago. The town's water supply was depleted cancelling school on Friday as around fifty firefighters responded to the four-alarm fire. (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

Rustic Crust Pizza Company is moving forward with plans to rebuild at its original location three months after a fire destroyed its Pittsfield headquarters.

Known for its all-natural and gluten-free pizza products, Rustic Crust opened at 55 Barnstead Road in 1996. The company’s application for rebuilding there was approved – with several conditions – at a Pittsfield Planning Board meeting Thursday. If no objections are filed within 30 days of the ruling, and if building inspector Jesse Pacheco finds no major issues, Rustic Crust will receive a building permit.

Pacheco said Rustic Crust doesn’t have to wait until those 30 days are over to start construction, though – and Chief Executive Officer Brad Sterl said he doesn’t plan to. While he doesn’t have a specific timeline for breaking ground on the new facility, he hopes to start construction within several weeks in order to be “up and running by October.”

“For us, timing’s important,” Sterl said. “It’s as simple as, we have to meet customers’ demands – that’s it. We need our production lines. We need to be running at capacity to fill all of our orders.”

Rustic Crust distributes its products across the country, including Hawaii and Alaska, and produces anywhere from 50,000 to 120,000 pizzas on a daily basis, Sterl said. It sells to major chains including Whole Foods, Safeway, Market Basket and Harris Teeter, among others.

In the months since the fire, Rustic Crust has remained in Pittsfield, setting up shop temporarily inside a warehouse at 5 Main St. But Sterl said the company hasn’t been able to operate at “normal capacity” because it doesn’t have all of the necessary equipment, much of which is custom built. While it ideally would be operating four production lines, it’s now only running three, he said, and employees have been working overtime to pick up the slack.

The company first filed its attempt to rebuild at its Barnstead Road location in May, Sterl said, and the process of getting necessary approval from local officials in Pittsfield has moved swiftly since then.

“I think it’s important to recognize that the town has done everything within their power to help move this along,” Sterl said.

Selectmen Chairman Lawrence Konopka said Pittsfield didn’t give Rustic Crust exclusive treatment, but he acknowledged that town officials made an effort to help the company get back on its feet. He and others rallied around the company and the roughly 100 employees in the immediate aftermath of the fire, he said, and in April, the selectmen also approved the expansion of a downtown RSA 79-E tax relief zone to include the area along Barnstead Road that encompasses the Rustic Crust property.

Businesses such as Rustic Crust are especially vital to Pittsfield’s future, Konopka said, and it was important to encourage the company to stay in the area as it rebuilds from the fire.

“We’re doing everything humanly possible to guide them through the process,” he said. “Rustic Crust is very positive for the community, and we would encourage anybody to do anything possible to help them.”

(Casey McDermott can be reached at 369-3306 or cmcdermott@cmonitor.com.)

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