Canadian Pizza Magazine

pizza on fire: Where there’s smoke, there’s fire

By Tom Stankiewicz   

Features Business and Operations Premises

If you own a business that has a physical location, then you are going to have to deal with different tradespersons from time to time. I recently had a walk-in cooler and freezer installed at my pizza place and I definitely learned a few things from the whole experience.

If you own a business that has a physical location, then you are going
to have to deal with different tradespersons from time to time. I
recently had a walk-in cooler and freezer installed at my pizza place
and I definitely learned a few things from the whole experience.

I hired a contractor who deals with new and used restaurant equipment.
I thought choosing the biggest company in my city would be pretty safe,
plus I wanted to give a local business an opportunity to earn money.
Based on our verbal agreement, he built a walk-in cooler and walk-in
freezer that replaced our smaller units. To be more specific, the
contractor constructed the walls for the unit. Two of his
subcontractors, an electrician and refrigerator technician, completed
the work inside the unit. They had to install a coil inside the walk-in
freezer and a compressor outside it. The work was completed within a
few days, which was great news for us, as we needed those units as soon
as possible in order to keep running the business. When the
subcontractors had connected everything inside the units, they were
supposed to wait for the special timer to turn off to ensure the
compressor didn’t overheat. Since they’d done this type of work
hundreds of times before, they were confident that they had done it
properly, and decided against waiting.

The next day, when I opened the door to my pizzeria, the place was
filled with a smoky smell. The ceiling and the walls of the walk-in
cooler were burned black and visible bubbles had formed from the paint
on the walls. The coil in the freezer was burned and its walls were
covered with black fire dust.


Right away, I called the fire inspector, who concluded that the fire
was caused due to improper electric wiring in those two units. As well,
I contacted an inspector specifically for electrical work who arrived
at the same conclusion. He checked the unit piece by piece to ensure no
further damages would occur.

In the end, I found out that the contractor, as well as the
subcontractors, had no permits to install those two units at our
pizzeria. The good news in this story is that at least both units were
insulated properly when built. This limited the amount of air coming
inside the walk-in freezer and the fire extinguished itself without
spreading outside. We had two options to resolve the problem: contact
the insurance company or fix the problem ourselves.

The next time I hire a contractor for a job I will make sure a contract
is signed. It becomes a legal document that binds both parties. Read it
carefully, ensure you understand every detail of it, and ensure that
you are satisfied with the work that will be provided by the
contractor. If you want something specific done and you don’t have it
in writing at that time, the contractor is not obligated to do it. It’s
almost impossible to prove a verbal promise.

The contract that you are presented with should include full names and
addresses for both parties as well as firm starting and completion
dates. For your protection, it must have a detailed description of what
will be done, and by whom, and what materials will be used.

It should be the contractor’s responsibility to obtain necessary
permits. This will definitely protect you if the unit isn’t built
according to specifications and causes damage. For example, if there is
an electrical fire due to incorrect wire connections it could create
serious destruction. If you’ve hired people who have a valid licence,
then they will have to come back and fix it. If the work hasn’t been
completed properly and the contractor refuses to fix it, you can always
report it to the city department where the licence was obtained.
Certificates of qualification will certify that tradespersons have
completed the apprenticeship program and passed the provincial exams
that guarantee their knowledge of the trade in which they will be

Specify who will be responsible for the cleanup when the construction
is completed. Will the contractor provide any warranties for his work
and for how long will they be valid? Insist on getting details about
the person’s public liability and property damage insurance. Ensure the
contractor is properly licensed and carries enough insurance. Last but
not least, clearly state the cost and terms of payment. If you include
all of the above-mentioned points, you will avoid many unnecessary
headaches in the event your project goes belly up.

Unless everything has been completed according to your signed contract,
do not make a final payment or sign any document that would indicate
that the contractor is no longer responsible for the work. Some people
may tell you that they will be back later to finish the work. From my
experience, if you pay someone all you owe them, it becomes more
unlikely that they will come back and finish the work.

Tom Stankiewicz has been in the pizza business for more than 15 years.
He has been the proprietor of Bondi’s Pizza in London since 2000 and is
president of the Canadian Pizza Team.

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