BENNINGTON — For Heather and Ryan Hassett, owners of Bennington Pizza House, 430 Main St., every shop owner’s nightmare became a reality early Monday morning: an electrical fire broke out in their restaurant.
At around 4:45 a.m., an employee opened the shop to clean and use the oven. When she opened the door, smoke billowed out and she immediately called co-owner Ryan Hassett.
Arriving quickly, he thinks on his feet. “I responded within five minutes probably,” Hassett said. “I turned off the propane and everything inside to make sure everything was as safe as possible.”
Bennington Fire and Police Departments arrived in time to spare the building major structural damage, but it suffered extensive smoke damage. The wall from which the electrical fire originated will need to be replaced and water damage has been sustained. No one was injured in the fire.
Hassett called security camera footage and knows the fire started early in the morning, but will leave it to experts to determine exactly when. This security system had water and fire detection features that store owners were still too busy to install.
Traders are not yet sure of the cost of repairs.
It’s a setback that will keep store doors closed for at least a few weeks. And in a community the size of Bennington, a closure like this has measurable impacts on the city.
Hassett, who has co-owned the 50-year-old establishment for about five years, knows this. “I call my employees all individually. ‘Cause you know, they’re all counting on me – counting on us – for our paycheck to pay their car payments and everything. If we are closed for a few weeks, it will be a huge financial burden on them,” Hassett said.
He and his wife, Heather Hassett, also own Bringing You Vermont, Vermont Confectionery and the Woodford General Store.
The couple are trying to find work at their other locations for around seven of their pizzeria employees.
“We have to strike a balance, so that we can take care of our employees without putting the rest of us in a financial crisis,” Hassett said.
The fire isn’t the only blow the Hassetts have endured recently. The Woodford General Store was robbed on November 11 and again on Christmas morning. Additionally, at the start of the pandemic, the couple invested $16,000 to redo the pizza place’s storefront to allow for 6-foot distancing and other COVID-19 safety measures, and they recently replaced an oven, making shop damage a sharper hit.
But Hassett isn’t sullen — he’s grateful. The owners of Ramunto’s and Benner’s, two other pizzerias in the city, have already asked what they can do to help.
“We are a tight-knit community. I just appreciate the support we have. Community businesses, we give back. When another company has a problem, we step in and say, “What can we do to help you?” and when we have a problem, they do the same.
He’s arranged to smuggle ingredients they won’t be able to use to Benner’s. This is pre-fire cooperation.
Benner’s and Bennington Pizza House source their bread from the same bakery, Pittsfield Rye Bakery in Massachusetts. The bakery driver has cancer, so when the pandemic hit, the two pizzerias took turns picking up bread for both establishments to protect his health. “We work together,” Hassett said.
And it has a message for the wider community. “We will reopen as soon as possible. And we appreciate everyone’s patronage, your good wishes, and we will come back to serve you as soon as possible.
The Bennington Fire Department could not be immediately reached.