A wood-fired stone oven constructed by Aldo Betta is a highlight of his back yard.
Alex Caprara/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Aldo Betta stacks pieces of wood in an oven that he constructed in his back yard. He used components from HarbinsonWalker International, a company that manufactures bricks and mortar for industrial furnaces used in steel, glass and aluminum production.
By Len Boselovic / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Benjamin Stanton is used to rubbing elbows with factory managers in flame retardant jumpsuits, supplying them with technical advice on the best heat-resistant brick and mortar to use in furnaces that make steel, aluminum, glass and other industrial products.
But in March, Mr. Stanton, manager of retail development for HarbisonWalker International, found himself in Las Vegas — surrounded by thousands of pizza fanatics attending the International Pizza Expo. He was there to further the Moon-based company’s hopes of expanding beyond the traditional industrial markets that HarbisonWalker has served for more than 100 years.
He is leading HarbisonWalker’s first venture on the new frontier: Ovenzz, a line of bricks and mortars designed to be used in wood-fired pizza and bread ovens. The products were officially launched June 1.
“We actually learned a lot in the two days we were there,” Mr. Stanton said of the pizza convention. “If we can do this successfully, what else is out there that we could do?”
The job of baking a pizza in a carefully controlled, heated enclosure isn’t all that different from melting steel.
“At a fundamental level, it’s all about heat storage,” Mr. Stanton said.
It’s just a matter of degrees. While steelmakers require refractories — the industry term for the brick and mortar — that can withstand temperatures of 3,100 degrees Fahrenheit, pizza ovens operate at 700 to 900 degrees Fahrenheit.
Steel and aluminum producers don’t have to eat what they make, but pizza makers do. So Mr. Stanton’s new product line had to pass muster with NSF International, an independent lab that certified it is safe to eat pizza baked in Ovenzz-bricked ovens.
One of the first Ovenzz customers was Aldo Betta, a HarbisonWalker accountant who this spring completed a poolside oven at his North Fayette home.
“You have to be somewhat handy. It’s not that difficult,” said Mr. Betta, who estimated the do-it-yourself project cost about $4,000.
The hearth is a little bigger than he thought he would need — about four feet by three feet with a three-foot dome — so it takes about two hours to burn a stack of hardwood and heat the oven to about 1,100 degrees. After letting the oven cool a bit, a pizza is ready in less than five minutes, Mr. Betta said.
“When I fire it up, I usually have a crowd,” he said, adding that he also uses the oven to roast chicken wings in a cast iron skillet.
Mr. Stanton estimated the potential market for Ovenzz at $15 million. The company has already sold some to BrickWood Ovens, a Lynden, Wash., company that sells do-it-yourself outdoor pizza oven kits. Mr. Stanton also hopes to sell Ovenzz through landscape designers who build ovens for retail clients.
Ovenzz products are made at plants in Sproul, Blair County, as well as Minerva, Ohio, and Vandalia, Mo.
The new product is part of HarbisonWalker’s effort to reinvent itself after a prolonged bout of bankruptcy caused by asbestos lawsuits that overwhelmed the company and its competitors. Asbestos used to be the main ingredient in refractory products because it was cheap, available in abundant supply, and was easy to work with.
The reorganized company was formed by the merger of three refractory makers: Harbison-Walker, North American Refractories Co. and A.P. Green Refractories. The merged company is owned by two trusts established to pay off the claims of asbestos victims.
Senior vice president and general manager Carol Jackson said it has been a challenge creating one culture from three companies with long histories in the same business. She said HarbisonWalker has about 1,700 employees, including about 150 who work at the company’s headquarters in Cherrington Corporate Center.
Len Boselovic: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1941.
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