Inside Earl Cogle's pizza kitchen. Scott VanGrootenbruel/The Commuter.

Extinguishing fires & hunger: W.Va. fire chief starts pizza joint, first restaurant in Blue Ridge Mountain

Earl Cogle had an idea to bring West Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountain something it never had before. With a population of almost 10,000, Blue Ridge did not have any restaurants in the local area. Cogle, the fire chief for Blue Ridge Mountain Volunteer Fire Department, then started selling pizza in a concession trailer at a nearby fire station.

After moving the concession trailer from one fire station to the other, Cogle eventually built the kitchen where he now makes pizza and subs every Wednesday through Sunday, the only restaurant on the mountain.

“There is nothing here for people to get. There are no restaurants on this mountain, just us” Cogle said. “I had an ice cream trailer and a pizza oven on a Sunday afternoon, gave it a shot, and it went from one thing to another.”

Cogle, who now uses the trailer he started in for catering events away from the fire station, started making pizza to not only help the fire station itself, but to also give back to the community.

“This helps to buy new gear, fire equipment, help to pay bills, keep the doors open on the firehouse, and to better serve our community,” Cogle said. “The money made from the pizza business also goes towards buying new gear for the fire department, which can cost over $3,000 per set. We use the money towards whatever it needs to be used for.”

When Cogle first started on his ice cream trailer two years ago, he thought it wouldn’t take off.

“This has now turned into ‘I want it every day,'” Cogle said.

When Cogle first started the pizza business in the fire department kitchen, all volunteer members at the fire station were ready to help. Later on, Cogle would see only a few volunteers stay to help him with the pizza business.

“Everyone was on board until they saw there was work that needed to be done, then they all kind of disappeared,” Cogle said. “We have 10 people helping, which is plenty.”

Cogle plans to continue doing this as long as he can. After already trying to hand over the business to someone else, he continues to run the pizza business and stay as fire chief.

“I want to do this from now until the end of time if we can,” Cogle said. “As long as I am fire chief and involved, I’m going to push the cart to keep it going.”

Robert Preston Deener, local volunteer firefighter said, “People are much happier in the community now. We get positive comments all around the community about how we are the only fire department around that does pizza.”

Timothy Stampher, local volunteer Firefighter and kitchen manager, added, “When this takes off, we will try to do this seven days a week. I came here one night, not knowing how to make a pizza. Now I spend more hours here than I do at home.”

In the time span of two weeks, the fire department kitchen has fulfilled 1,041 pizza orders while keeping the community safe.

“For a small little fire department, we doing dog-gone good,” Stampher said. “It’s something about this pizza they just gotta have.”

People not only on the mountain, but outside the area call in orders ahead of time for pickup and delivery.

“The farthest delivery we have taken is Shepherdstown,” Stampher said. “Other pizza shops will not deliver to people’s front door.

“When I lay my head on my pillow at night and know I saved someone’s life or feed this community, I can sleep knowing I did my part in this community.”

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