Mastro's sculptors keep chipping away as sales heat up
Dan Shaffer, an ice sculptor for the Mastro Ice Co., wears gloves as he works in a freezer room at the Herron Avenue company on a display piece to be sent to a local golf club.
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The temperature in Pittsburgh has been hovering around 90 degrees or more during much of the past few weeks, but you wouldn't know it if you saw Dan Shaffer at work.
Mr. Shaffer, an ice sculptor at Mastro Ice Co. in the Hill District, wears a body suit, boots and winter hat as he chisels away at a large block of ice in a 25-degree room.
"I come in sandals every day," he said recently, as he chipped away on a sculpture of a golfer. "I put this suit on inside the room on the hottest days."
While the freezing temperatures inside Mastro's building belie this summer's sweltering weather, the high heat has set fire to the company's bagged ice sales, according to Joe Mastro, vice president. The company sells everything from ice tools to ice blocks to dry ice, which, at negative 109 degrees, is Mastro's coolest product.
Demand is up from the supermarkets, convenience stores and beer distributors that the company counts among its customers. In the aftermath of July Fourth festivities, Mastro's 28-degree storage freezer -- where, on a 90-degree day, you can see your breath -- looked barren, while automated machines produced, packaged and sealed the cubes, which are made from filtered water.
"Typically, this [freezer] would be double-stacked full, and it was up until yesterday at 6 a.m., and then every truck's on the road just taking ice out," said Mr. Mastro, who is perhaps acclimated to the cold. He was dressed in a short-sleeved collared shirt, long pants and boots.
The period between Memorial Day and Labor Day generally marks the peak of Mastro's bagged ice production. This summer's unusually warm weather has made demand for bagged ice especially hot.
That means extra hours for employees. The company hires additional production workers and drivers just to meet the orders. Right now, 12 drivers are delivering Mastro's products. In the off-season, the company needs only four or five, according to Mr. Mastro.
And while the company generally has workers in seven days a week year-round, it's "all hands on deck" in the summer, Mr. Mastro said.
"All the guys who are working, they want to stay in and get extra time," he said.
Mr. Mastro has run the company alongside his brother, Mike, since 1982, according to its website. Having worked in the refrigeration business, they would provide ice to companies whose ice machines had broken. Eventually, they decided to devote all their energies to ice.
The company's Hill District location, Mr. Mastro said, allows for quick and easy deliveries around the region.
In July, Mastro's building looks like an alternative wintry universe. Outside, while Pittsburgh residents look for a respite from the summer heat, Mr. Mastro puts down sand on slippery doorways and wipes his feet on doormats.
He doesn't seem to mind missing the heat. "You can appreciate when it's that hot out and you're in here and it's cold," he said.
It's not all business for Mr. Mastro. Besides helping to run the company, he sculpts ice alongside Mr. Shaffer.
Back in the 1980s, he would see chefs making ice sculptures and decided to try it out himself. Now, his company creates pieces for corporate events, weddings and holidays.
"Back then, they were just doing swans and baskets. Now, we've moved it to a whole new level, where it's more of a fine art with sculpting -- anything from a Rodin Museum-quality piece to a life-size Mini Cooper car," he said.
First Published July 15, 2012 12:00 am