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April 6, 2013

Staying anchored

Family sheds Upper Crust name for its own flavor

NEWBURYPORT — Good-bye Upper Crust, hello Anchor Stone Deck Pizza.

That’s the message from the owners of the State Street restaurant after recently announcing it will terminate its relationship with the beleaguered pizza chain, effective Monday, and break out on its own.

Workers on Thursday morning removed the Upper Crust signs, On Monday, the pizza shop will close for one day. When it reopens Tuesday, new signs and a new brand will be in place.

Since Mark and Jennifer Tramontana made the decision to leave the once-powerful Boston-area pizza chain, it has been waging a social media and word-of-mouth blitz. The couple want to let their loyal clientele and anyone looking for a quick slice know that, despite the break from Upper Crust, they will still be part of the local business community.

Mark Tramontana said leaving the Upper Crust family will allow them to control their own destiny and shed any of the negative connotations associated with the once-robust brand.

“The idea is to drive the car yourself,” he said, adding he and his wife were excited, nervous and relieved at the idea of being completely independent.

As recently as two years ago, there were 17 pizza places under the Upper Crust umbrella, most of them official branches of the business with a few others, including the Tramontana’s shop, independent franchises.

But as a result of declining sales and a series of investigations into Upper Crust’s hiring of illegal immigrants from Brazil and then exploiting them, the chain has all but disappeared. Last November, 10 locations abruptly closed a month after Upper Crust trustees filed for bankruptcy protection. Today, only a handful of locations remain, including the original restaurant on Boston’s Beacon Hill.

One of the locations to close was the Tramontana’s Portsmouth, N.H., branch, which served its last slice in February, only two years after opening. Mark Tramontana said the Portsmouth location never gained traction — in part because it opened during the height of the media firestorm into Upper Crust’s hiring practices and financial difficulties.

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