January 18, 2016 Issue
By Eric Lach
Forbes March wasn’t always in the firewood business. He spent three
seasons on the ABC soap opera “One Life to Live,” playing the doomed
winery owner Nash Brennan, who falls to his death through a skylight
window. Soon after, in 2009, March quit acting, moved to Jeffersonville,
New York, and established the New York Firewood Company. The firm
now supplies kiln-dried, plastic-wrapped bundles of logs to seventy-five
restaurants and hundreds of private residences in and around New York
“I’ve fallen into everything,” March said on a recent Saturday morning,
as he navigated his forty-foot delivery truck through Manhattan traffic.
March and a helper, a burly man with tattooed shoulders named Ronald Stickle, had set out from Jeffersonville at 4:30 a.m. They had fourteen stops to make: a house in Westchester County, seven restaurants in Manhattan, one in Williamsburg, one on Staten Island, and four houses in New Jersey. “We got college kids, we got professors, we have old families on the Upper East Side—I’ve delivered firewood to the Roosevelts—we have Irish pub owners,” March said.
At Bella Blu, a restaurant on Lexington Avenue that serves wood-fired pizza, Stickle wheeled twenty-five bundles into the kitchen on a dolly while March sized up a honey locust outside. “In another forty years, that would be a gorgeous tree,” he said. “You got a nice long straight section with no branches.” March, who is forty-two, and from Nova Scotia, still appears more or less camera-ready, though his dirty-blond hair and pale-blue eyes have begun to compete with some crow’s-feet. Back in the truck, he explained how, after nearly two decades of acting and modelling, he decided to go into business. He first considered opening a winery, to trade on his old character’s name. “I had a huge following,” he said, as he double-parked around the corner from La Tarte Flambée, on East Thirty-third. “I could have sold wine up the ying yang.” But firewood was closer to his Canadian heart. On his right forearm, there is a long dark scar he got when he was eight, while cutting wood with a bow saw.
The delivery truck held more than five hundred bundles, mostly fine-split ash, but also large-split “regular” mix, plus hickory, cherry, and apple. “They have different smells,” March said. “Some people get into it like wine.” Hickory will make a house smell like a ski lodge. Cherry is prized for the way it crackles and pops in a fireplace.
March estimates that his company cuts, splits, dries, packages, and ships about three thousand “Manhattan cords” (some forty cubic feet of wood, or fifty bundles) a year. Prices range from two hundred and fifty to four hundred and twenty-five dollars per Manhattan cord, depending on the species. Then there are special orders. “There’s an axe community in Brooklyn,” March said. “They always want us to bring them logs, to practice their axe-swinging prowess.”
Several of the day’s deliveries were to wood-fired pizza restaurants, which have been crucial customers ever since March got the stamp of approval from Roberto Caporuscio, the owner of Don Antonio and Kesté, in 2012. Outside Eataly, off Madison Square Park, March and Stickle watched as a man driving a forklift carted off an entire pallet of their fine split.
Pizza chefs are finicky. March once had a client who burned only white birch for his pizza. Another guy was partial to the red cores of beech trees. “If you change their wood, you change the way their oven behaves, and they can’t cook in it,” March said. On Houston Street, Stickle hopped out to make a delivery, while March stayed in the truck, which was parked illegally. He watched several police cars drive by. “If I get one more moving violation, I lose my license,” he said. “Then I’ll have to move back to the city.”
Last year, as part of an effort to protect the city’s air quality, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a law prohibiting the installation of any new wood-burning fireplaces, and mandating that wood burned in a preexisting fireplace have a moisture content of twenty per cent or less, by weight. (Drier wood burns cleaner.) These changes don’t much bother March, who has all the clients he needs. Plus, he already brings the moisture content of his logs down to eight per cent, drying them in a giant kiln that’s long enough for their ends to carbonize. “That’s very dry,” March said. “It’s ready to burn.” ♦