Contractor:  Disaster Restoration Services of Greater Pittsburgh (DRS)

Project: Sarris candies

Loss date: February 3, 2012 Completion Date: June 1, 2012

Dollar Value of Loss: $2.07 Million


4f2becfd811ed_imageEleven days before Valentine’s Day 2012, one of the biggest candy and confectionery holiday seasons of the year was seriously interrupted for our client by an early morning fire event. At the time of the fire no one knew the extent of the loss and this took some time to grasp the damage. The family based operation started by founder Frank Sarris and now operated by son, Bill Sarris is well known in the region and throughout North America , often being touted as the “World’s Best Chocolates”, was very concerned about getting back in business. The Sarris Candies corporate facilities are located just south of the city of Pittsburgh in the Washington County town of Canonsburg. Sarris Candies is an iconic “Pittsburgh Company” and the area’s favorite purveyor of sweets. It was clear that the Sarris priorities were about retaining their employees during this time and filling their various customer obligations much more than profits.

Another Pittsburgh favorite, Disaster Restoration Services of Pittsburgh (DRS), was called upon to help Sarris Candies with the restoration process. First by providing initial emergency services and then working with their insurance carrier and consultants to provide a construction scope and estimate for the project. The February 3, 2012 fire had affected the main operation center of the 50 year old candy manufacturer. The fire damaged the plant including portions of the main production facility, the ice cream parlor, the retail store and the general business offices. The cause of the fire was deemed electrical but had also affected a large section of the roof structure, the first and second floor production areas and smoke had infiltrated 60% of the building before being extinguished.

At 7:30 AM on February 3, 2012 DRS received a call from the client and their insurance broker to help provide assistance and responded immediately. We dispatched project managers and emergency crew members to provide for immediate site containment and electrical safety concerns. Once the building was secure from the elements ,we were able to make building, equipment and inventory assessments jointly with the client to determine items affected and levels of damage. From the beginning DRS Restoration Manager, Tom Koerbel , met with owner Mr. Bill Sarris and management staff of Sarris Candies as well as various insurance representatives and consultants for an initial and ongoing plan. This joint approach ensured that the business recovery was thorough and planned properly.

Thousands of moulds and tons of chocolate were damaged beyond repair. Chocolate was melted on and in equipment, bulk chocolate destroyed, as well as numerous finished goods. Dumpsters of moulds and chocolate had to be disposed of as well as affected raw materials. Production, freezers and refrigeration equipment had burned and had to be replaced. Major structural damage, including 1/3 of the roof line, had to be replaced.

To appreciate the sensitivities and stresses of the specific project it is important that the size and scope of the loss be understood as well as the impact on the business. During the restoration process, reporters showed up at various stages, vendors arrived to help and clients who had not heard of the loss on the news had arrived for plant tours or ice cream parlor outings. This was a very public business that had a great reputation and wanted to be back in business. The client was very personable and carefully worded all press releases and news interviews.

The immediate and quick response by DRS and their subcontractor Electro-Mechanical Recertifiers, LLC (ER) to treat various pieces of production equipment saved the insurance carrier roughly $700,000 to $900,000 in equipment replacement. By mobilizing the ER mobile lab, DRS were able to save “One of a kind” Candy moulds. In saving these moulds it was an estimated cost savings of $1.2 million dollars to Travelers Insurance.

DRS faced many day to day challenges from inception to implementation through completion. Some of the notable challenges are as follows: 

  1. The client had a primary core goal to get into business with the shortest path to recovery. They were very concerned about key staff leaving, extended rebuild times and the ability to phase in sections or areas of the buildings. This need had to be first recognized and then addressed to keep this goal as a priority for our team.
  2. Multiple parties were called in by the insurance company besides the insurance adjuster. Their experts included inventory specialists, forensic accountants, building consultants, salvage companies and engineers. These various entities showed up on both announced and unannounced appointments. This required a great deal of time from the client and his management staff. This also required large amounts of our time and expertise to help the navigate their specific questions, document the damages and understand the insurance coverage and limits.
  3. Unforeseen Code upgrades and various changes to electrical and structural building components had to be dealt with. The new electrical codes as well as structural loads and fire code issues had to be addressed in the scope.
  4. Joint approvals from the client and then the insurance company for selections, work approvals or extra charges can be a challenge and take valuable time to obtain.
  5. Original drawings were not always available and nor were stamped engineered drawings therefor engineering and architectural services had to be relied upon for current designs and subsequent client approvals and then submitted to local code officials.

DRS applied our expertise to address these challenges:

  1. Staying focused on a large project is hard enough with all the details of the job. We recognized our good standing with the client early on and embraced the partnership of working together to meet their goals and objectives. As is typical there were daily changes and some stumbling blocks but because we established a rapport and understood the client objectives they treated us like a true partner and team member from beginning to end of the project.
  2. Having multiple parties of experts show up and constantly ask questions sometime meaningful and other times seemingly redundant and how to accommodate that is a daily challenge. Leading them to address all questions through a POC for the client or a project manager who can distribute the information to all parties helps manage the process and make it more efficient.
  3. Finding hidden damages and items that need repaired as exposed to meet code and then having the carrier determine the validity of the upgrade or the coverage for an item can be a stressful especially when you are tempting to fast track a project. This estimating and tracking of additional requirements and costs is important to the project’s success.
  4. Weekly meetings were held to review the work completed and the work in progress of the project. At this time DRS would set goals for selections of materials and provide completion dates of certain tasks so Sarris Candies could prepare themselves moving forward.
  5. DRS work with reliable engineers and architects that could produce drawings in a timely fashion to ensure proper cooperation with building code officials and the State of Pennsylvania’s Labor and Industry Department. Architectual drawings and engineering services can be strenuous activity that stalls progress because the process must be fast tracked. We made this process almost seamless during the reconstruction.

Lessons learned and potential benefits from this j0b experience:

As project managers and general contractors we must have better control of the job site, i.e., who enters the building and what work they are here to perform, safety and evacuation procedures, daily job site meeting times and maybe even a site consultation office trailer to ensure a place forjob site accountant, time keeper, site entry log and daily log of events. A place to store drawings and for workers to check in and check out as well as a clean, heated/cooled quite place to meet and talk with various subs, suppliers, insurance representatives and other prior to entry in the building.