Brad Sterl Interview
(Rustic Crust Organic Pizza Crust)

Brad Sterl is the man behind the Rustic Crust frozen flatbread pizzas you see in your grocery store’s frozen food department.

Rustic Crust is a New Hampshire bakery specializing in all natural, Old World crusts and flatbreads. Founded in 1996 as Ever Better Eating. Rustic Crust offers a variety of ready-made crusts and frozen topped flatbread pizzas each crafted with dough formed by hand, allowed to slowly ferment, double proofed and baked in custom ovens for rich flavor. Rustic Crust offers 5 varieties of pizza crusts including Cheesy Herb, Tuscan Six Grain, Ultimate Whole Grain, Classic Sourdough and Italian Herb.
Their selection of flatbread pizzas includes Cheese and Vine Ripened Tomato, Ultimate Cheese and Herb, Basil Pesto, and Roasted Red Pepper.

Brad Sterl talked with us about his company.

Q – Brad, I first saw your product in December 2011. How long in fact has Rustic Crust been in grocery stores?
A – It’s been selling in the grocery side of the business since 1998 or 1999.

Q – And it’s taken that long to get it into Price Chopper?
A – Its funny we just went into Price Chopper in September/October 2011. We ran a promotion in November/December.

Q – I saw American Flatbread. You’re calling the product Rustic Crust.
A – Well, we have two brands. We have American Flatbread and the other brand is Rustic Crust. The Rustic Crust is just a crust. It’s an all natural pizza crust that you top and bake at home. It’s like a Bobali, but a lot better. The American Flatbread is a handmade, hand topped, wood fired frozen pizza.

Q – I don’t believe I saw the Rustic Crust only the American Flatbread.
A – Only about a third of the Price Choppers carry the American Flatbread.

Q - You’re in a pretty crowded field aren’t you? How can you compete with the more established pizza companies?
A – Yeah. It’s really for us, we’re not the least expensive by any means, but I believe we’re probably one of the best frozen pizzas in the market place today. That’s really how we compete. So far we’ve built an exceptional loyalty. When people eat it, it’s an exceptional product. So, they continue to come back. They’re not always trying to buy the cheapest product on the shelf.

Q – Is it an easy sell to get Rustic Crust or American Flatbread into a supermarket?
A – No, not at all especially because we’re more expensive. Even though we sell extremely well in the stores you’re getting somebody beyond that $4.99 frozen pizza idea. Price Chopper is about $8.99 or $9.99, but it’ll be as high as $12.99 in some markets.

Q – So, you’re selling point about Rustic Crust and American Flatbread is that it’s the Best-selling pizza around.
A – Right. If you Goggled Best Frozen Pizza, I’ll guarantee it will come up from all kinds of magazines. Rachel Ray’s magazine, Real Simple, Bon Appetit, and by individual Blogs on the Internet. So, it is one of the best frozen pizzas on the market. I like to say the best.

Q – Is this a product that’s just sold in the U.S.?
A – Currently it’s sold in the U.S. Probably by the end of this year we have some interest in Korea and Japan.

Q –That’s kind of strange isn’t it?
A – Italian food and pizza apparently is going gangbusters there because ours is a naturally organic product. It really fits what they’re looking to import. We shipped over samples and we’re kind of waiting for feedback now.

Q – I almost forgot to ask what is your position with the company.
A – I am the CEO and Founder. Rustic Crust owns the American Flatbread brand. The original Founder of American Flatbread was George Schenk. It was based out of Vermont. George still runs the restaurant side. In 2010 we made a deal where we took over all the grocery industry side of things.

Q – What were you doing before Rustic Crust?
A – Rustic Crust has been around since 1996 as a manufacturing company. Prior to that was pizza. The Rustic Crust Co. evolved from a restaurant chain I had called Foodee’s. It was a real upscale pizza restaurant around New England. We were Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, New Jersey.

Q – Is that chain still around?
A – In 2000 I sold most of the restaurants. There’s still some of them around in New England. But, after I sold it, I really haven’t kept track.

Q – How did you get your start in the food industry?
A – When I was younger I started working in the restaurant business when I was 13. So, I started cooking and worked my way through to management. I got into some real estate. I bought my first restaurant when I was 20.

Q – Wow! You were a go-getter!
A – (Laughs) After I had that restaurant I started another small restaurant chain. I sold that and then I bought into the Foodee’s chain and from there I did this. A passion for food.

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