All Fired Up
Photograph by Clinton James
Fans of the flame-kissed pizza at Tom Douglas’ Serious Pie and Joe Fugere’s Tutta Bella Neapolitan may be surprised to discover that the authentic Old World taste comes not from some venerable imported Italian oven but from a specialty oven manufactured in Bellingham.
In the past two decades, Wood Stone’s wood- and gas-fired commercial ovens have blazed their way into Seattle’s beloved pizzerias, Wolfgang Puck eateries, California Pizza Kitchens (more than 300 of them) and many more restaurants around the United States and beyond. Founders Keith Carpenter and Harry Hegarty have tackled a high-end niche market with a combination of a state-of-the-art manufacturing facility complete with robots, a large sales network and intensive customer care.
Wood Stone was born when a business acquaintance looking to start a restaurant talked to Carpenter about the need for a durable, reliable commercial wood-fired stone hearth oven. Carpenter, now 60, had been in the food service industry as a product representative since 1980. He was also a former “hippie,” who had heated and cooked with wood for years; he figured he knew what to do. He paired with Hegarty, a friend of a friend who had been building large-scale, high-temperature incinerators for the forest products industry.
In a workshop in Bellingham, they began building their signature ovens in 1990. They moved to Sumas in 1993; added gas-fired ovens in 1995 (today, gas constitutes 95 percent of their business); moved to and refurbished a building at the Bellingham airport in 2000 and added a 57,000-square-foot facility in 2007. In early 2011, the company boasted about 90 employees and 9,000 commercial ovens installed in 75 countries. Carpenter says annual sales in 2008 and 2009 were between $15 million and $20 million each year.
Wood Stone ovens are made of high-quality components, including steel exteriors. But what really distinguishes them is the deck, the surface inside the oven on which the cooking takes place. Composed of 3- to 6-inch high-temperature ceramic, the deck enables the oven to hold and distribute heat evenly. The deck reaches between 400 and 700 degrees, and temperatures in the oven can exceed 1,000 degrees.