Valley News – Fire destroys hot chocolate factory in Wells River
Posted: 12/22/2021 15:44:23 PM
Modified: 12/22/2021 15:44:08
WELLS RIVER – The owner of a hot chocolate maker whose Industrial Park Road factory was destroyed in a fire early Tuesday morning has said he hopes to find new space to reopen and resume manufacturing of the mixture from the company’s premium hot chocolate powder by January.
Keith Lemnios, managing director of Sillycow Farms, which makes the Sillycow hot chocolate mix lines, said on Wednesday he was already looking for a new space in the Wells River area where he could install the manufacturing equipment that has been ordered. before the fire set the factory ablaze. , which employed 28 people.
“We have new material on order. The delivery schedule is for mid-January. We should be up and running by the end of January, ”said Lemnios, who added that it is“ definitely our preference ”to stay in Wells River but given the lack of manufacturing space in the rural area“ I don’t. not want to guarantee this.
The blaze, which hit the Newbury Fire Department at 12:37 a.m., destroyed the facility just in the height of its manufacturing season, as it produces thousands of its bottle-shaped containers daily from milk containing hot chocolate mixtures.
The morning fire, which involved between 40 and 50 firefighters from eight different companies, was one of the biggest that Newbury Fire Chief Jeff Morin said he has ever fought.
“Such fires don’t happen often, thank goodness,” said Morin, who noted that the all-metal structure “held in heat very well and really destroyed the building” so that by the time his team had cleared the room. scene at 5:48 am, there was only “twisted metal” left.
Morin said the cause of the fire was under investigation by Vermont State Police, but it appears to have caught fire near an electric forklift that is typically recharged every night . Another possible source of the blaze, Morin said, could be propane heaters hanging from the ceiling.
“I spoke with the manager and he told me that everyone was leaving from 4:30 pm to 5 pm and that everything was fine,” said Morin.
Lemnios said processing and packaging is being temporarily moved to contract factories in New York and Connecticut, which will be overseen by Sillycow.
“We are still in business. We use the equipment and labor of the co-packers and the production schedules will be managed by our team to ensure the quality. We are filling our orders, ”said Lemnios.
Started in 2008 by Jonathan and Fran Rutstein as an extension of their Wells River-based mail order dessert sauce business, Bread and Chocolate, Sillycow now produces approximately 2 million bottles of its hot chocolate powder blend in 12 different flavors per year. The company was acquired by Lemnios and a group of investors with Delta Capital Group, based in Connecticut, a few years ago.
Sillycow is one of the city’s biggest employers, according to Newbury Selectboard chairperson Alma Roystan.
“That’s a lot for a small town like ours,” Roystan said, “the only other would be the Wells River Savings Bank. So it’s a substantial loss on many levels. (The bank employs 56 people, according to the documents regulatory).
She said a business like Sillycow is valuable because it helps support the city’s tax base, which otherwise doesn’t have a lot of industries.
“We don’t have a lot of zoned places for industry so hopefully they will find something to suit,” Roystan said.
As for the Sillycow employees who suddenly found themselves out of work due to the fire in the run-up to Christmas, Lemnios, CEO of Sillycow, said some were being sent to Connecticut to oversee the production of the hot chocolate mix at the contract manufacturer.
“We have provided Christmas bonuses so that everyone can spend the holidays,” Lemnois said, saying that until they can reopen a factory “for the benefit of our employees, we will find a solution where everyone is cured “.
Contact John Lippman at [email protected]