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Vincent Giove, co-owner, vice-president and chief strategy officer at Rustica Foods (left) and Richard Morgante, president, CEO and founder (right).Supplied

When you’re just getting a business off the ground and laser-focused on your founding philosophy, it’s easy enough to talk about quality and mean every word you say. But with growth often comes sacrifice, and in the quest for profitability, the allure of short-term gains can blind leadership to the importance of maintaining what makes their product special—to the detriment of customer trust, brand value and opportunities for sustainable growth. Rustica Foods—a commercial pizza manufacturer that started life as a 600-square-foot family pizzeria—launched a line of frozen pizzas in 2017. At that juncture, it almost became a cautionary tale, but founder and CEO Richard Morgante course-corrected the moment he noticed a dip in quality.

“Having built a business from the ground up, we really understand what artisanal quality means. When it comes to pizza, that means a properly fermented crust that has time to develop flavour, which isn’t the norm for the industry,” says Morgante. When Rustica first expanded to a proper industrial production line, they included fermentation in the process, letting the dough rest for a full 45 minutes before it goes further down the line. That production line included a modular, multi-tier proofing system that runs more than 1,500 feet of a continuous dough band. The original plan was to was to add tiers as production increased, but a quality dip meant taking advantage of that space earlier than anticipated.

In February 2017, the brand’s frozen pizza line was in pre-production, and Morgante and co. got busy doing the terribly tough work of taste testing the goods. Somewhere in the effort to speed up the line, the proofing time was reduced from a leisurely 45 minutes to something more in the neighbourhood of ten to fifteen. Morgante immediately noticed the difference, and could have chosen to ignore it—after all, the faster your factory can pump out pizza, the more you can sell. “The absolute most efficient way to make pizza, it turns out, is not to give it the love it deserves,” he says. “At this early stage, we tried to bypass the process a little bit, but that started to degrade the product. It started to feel and taste like everything else on the market, and that just wasn’t good enough for us.”

Instead of gradually taking up the modular production line, Rustica pivoted to use more of it earlier on, giving the pizza time and space to ferment long enough to maintain their signature flavour. Morgante is convinced that sacrificing a bit of speed for the sake of maintaining a high standard is part of what’s driving his company’s growth, and that breed of focus is partly behind its inclusion in Canada’s Best Managed Companies program. In 2017, Rustica was a $10 million business—now, it’s edging towards $100 million, complete with three Montreal manufacturing facilities spanning 100,000 square feet. Sometimes, enduring success comes out of a somewhat counterintuitive management choice: look beyond the numbers.

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