About Town

Pizza just one ingredient for success

Craig White, Bob Linder and Jack Linder of Hillside Pizza in their Bernardston pizza restaurant.  Recorder/Paul Franz

Craig White, Bob Linder and Jack Linder of Hillside Pizza in their Bernardston pizza restaurant. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »

Between them, Craig White and Robert Lindner had experience running a pizza shop, cooking at schools like Austine School for the deaf and Bement School, as well as organic farming and human services.

After meeting at Tai Kwan Do class and doing business together — chef White buying organic vegetables from Lindner’s farm while working at Bement School — they hatched a plan to sell partially-baked pizzas made with organic ingredients for fundraisers

Starting out by baking for a benefit for Greenfield’s Second Congregational Church on Sept. 9, 2001, they joined the church in turning all of the earnings over to the United Church of Christ’s “Hope from the Rubble” campaign for 9/11 victims.

That was the first $1,000 of what’s now become $325,000 in donations from Hillside Pizza, which has been named Haas Entrepreneur of the Year by the Franklin County Community Development Corp.

The CDC will present the fourth annual entrepreneurship award to White and Lindner at its “Celebrating Entrepreneurship” event May 15 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Shea Theatre in Turners Falls.

The award, named for Hillside Plastics founder Richard Haas, honors “business owners who make Franklin County special by balancing  entrepreneurship, family and community,” according to CDC Business Development Director Amy Shapiro.

“Franklin County is a rural community made up of diverse businesses and people with its own unique culture and flavor that makes it special,” Shapiro says. “The small business owners really build this unique fabric for all of us to enjoy. They’re the quirky personality with a certain combination of chutzpah and drive just to be able to take an idea and carry it through, creating jobs for themselves and other people becoming leaders and mentors to other businesses.”

Pointing to Haas and the previous recipients of the annual award — the founding owners of The People’s Pint, Zoar Outdoor and Small Corp., Shapiro said, “We’ve seen it over and over again: They start up their business and struggle to keep it going, and they become leaders of the community, mentoring other small businesses.”

Over the years, Hillside has blossomed, with restaurants in Deerfield, Bernardston and Hadley as well as a catering business and its original fundraising business that works with schools and organizations from Putney, Vt., and Keene, N.H., to Enfield, Conn., to sell pizzas, cookie dough and restaurant gift certificates. The business, owned by White and Lindner along with Lindner’s son and daughter, Jack and Kim, and Jenny Coffin, who run the Bernardston and Hadley stores, also sells its frozen pizzas at Green Fields Market, McCusker’s Market and River Valley Market.

Aside from more than 100 fundraisers a year, Hillside Pizza “gives back to the community,” as Shapiro says, as a workplace for students with autism from the Inspire School in Guilford, Vt. It’s a school that White co-founded, and five of its 16 students have jobs at the Bernardston pizza restaurant, folding boxes, applying labels and cutting up pizza toppings.

“We try to teach them some vocational skills with placements throughout the community,” says White. “Our hope for the whole school is that we can have these kids have some kind of independence. They love coming here, and then they make a pizza to go home with.”

The business also has a commitment to buying locally, from food purveyors like Yazwinski and Bloody Brook farms in Deerfield to dressing manufacturer Appalachian Naturals, which was another early tenant at CDC’s Greenfield food processing center.

There, White said, “We got to make $100,000 worth of mistakes before we ever we went out and spent $100,000. We were able to build our business within the walls of the CDC kitchen for three or four years before we ever opened a restaurant.”

Hillside also sends much of its waste back to local farms to make a full circle, White says, much like it buys unbleached, corrugated pizza boxes that can be recycled.

It’s the mix of enterprises, including selling pizza slices to benefit the Garlic and Arts Festival in Orange or Sunday’s Kringle Candle Chase 5k Run/Walk, that keep the business fresh. And also, as White says, “it’s a way for us to be in the community all the time.”

He explains, “We’ve learned that if you just open up a restaurant, it’s hard. We can count 10 places that have closed within five miles of here last year. If we were just living on the restaurant revenues, yikes. We had seven weekends in a row this year when one of the days was lost. When you do that times three restaurants, that’s a lot of money lost. But knowing that we sold 2,000 pizzas for Super Bowl fundraisers, those were already sold, plus 300 or 400 (frozen) pizzas that we’ve sold, we’ve got other income coming in.”

So what’s next? White and Linder are looking at setting up franchises to sell their fundraising idea to other entrepreneurs interested in helping their own communities. It’s the pizza idea that keeps on giving.

On the Web: www.fccdc.org

You can reach Richie Davis at rdavis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269

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