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Restaurant mogul George Schenk melds the needs of people, planet, and profits

Serving nutritious food, following ecological principles, and helping his community in Vermont make George Schenk a businessman with a social conscience.

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George Schenk founded American Flatbread pizza as a way to showcase local produce and advocate for both community and global causes.

Brian Mohr/EmberPhoto

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In the fall of 1979, George Schenk stuffed all his worldly possessions into his pickup truck and moved from upstate New York to central Vermont. After settling in the sleepy ski town of Waitsfield, he began working as a dishwasher, freelance photographer, and live-in baby sitter.

He also apprenticed at local restaurants and learned from chefs who were cooking in ways that emphasized local and regional ingredients. By 1985, Mr. Schenk was selling his own "flatbread," a variation on the brick oven-style pizza he'd eaten as a teenager, topped with Vermont produce.

Serving nutritious food, he realized, was a good way to promote the kind of community values he'd absorbed in his Connecticut childhood and the ecological principles he'd embraced in his previous careers as a farmer and forester.

"I felt as though the environmental dimension of food needed a voice," Schenk recalls. Today, American Flatbread operates three popular Vermont locations, exports frozen pizzas nationwide, and is franchising its restaurant concept in other states.

But profit isn't Schenk's only priority: For more than two decades he has donated thousands of his flatbreads to the poor and sick. He's also held an average of eight benefit bakes each year to raise money for those in need, from the Boy Scouts in Vermont to earthquake victims in Haiti. He also serves on the boards of several nonprofit groups and promotes grass-roots causes by staging public events at his flagship restaurant.

Although Schenk's unorthodox, off-the-cuff style sometimes stirs controversy, friends and advocates say he is an uncommonly generous man who's willing to risk his reputation to stand by his convictions.

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