The U.S. coal industry has found a partial savior in a very unlikely place - pizza parlors.
The chief executive officer of Pennsylvania-based Blaschak Coal, Greg Driscoll, says his company is keenly pursuing coal-fired pizza places which he says is a "market that just kind of snuck up on us."
His company deals with anthracite coal, which is considered one of the hottest and purest burning types of coal in the world.
“It’s sort of in the face of everything that is going on.” he says referring to the many former customers, especially energy companies, turning to cheaper and more "green" products, as well as stricter environmental regulations.
Driscoll says the same qualities that make anthracite the perfect source for energy companies apparently also makes it ideal for giving pizzas a finer taste. Although pizza places at present just make up four percent of Blaschak’s wholesale market, Driscoll says it’s the fastest growing sector
Fred Le Franc of restaurant consultant group Results Thru Strategy says, “The phenomenon of coal-fired pizza has a lot to do with flavor. It’s the difference of having a steak cooked over a gas grill vs charcoal. You get this great smokey flavor.”
Anthracite burns at temperatures of up to 900 degrees Fahrenheit, which is dramatically hotter than traditional wood-fired ovens. This allows cooks to bake pizza not only much faster, but also more evenly while getting the smoky flavor the coal lets off.
Driscoll admits pizza alone cannot save the the anthracite industry. He says that in 2014, American coal mines produced about 2.5 million tons of anthracite, compared to the 1917 peak of 100 million tons. Last year Blaschak sold 375,000 tons to pizza places across the U.S. Driscoll says he is "willing to explore any new markets that present themselves".
“Anthracite fueled the industrial revolution and two world wars,” Driscoll says. “Big events foster growth but they’re temporary. Don’t make them your plan.”
One things is for sure though, America’s coal-fired pizza ovens will not go cold from a lack of anthracite any time soon.