NORTH ANDOVER -- If you've ordered a pizza to go from Stachey's Pizza the last few years, chances are good your box was folded by Andrew Chartier.
In fact, says owner Terry Holland, "I'd say about a 99 percent chance.”
Not only is Andrew, 19, the best at folding pizza boxes that Holland has ever seen in the shop, he’s a great example of the rewards of hard work.
Andrew, who has autism, was hired by Stachey's as part of North Andover High School’s special needs work program about four years ago. He was no superstar that first day.
"He was able to fold one box," said Holland. "He was nervous back then.
“But then got better,” said Holland. “And then he got really better."
So much that Andrew now can fold 200 boxes in a three-hour stretch, Holland estimates.
He’s so fast that Holland put in a call recently to those who oversee the work program and Andrew’s parents about a competition that was coming to Haverhill.
“He said it would be great way to show off Andrew's skills,” said Ryan Burr, director of the special needs work program. "His mom agreed."
Two weeks ago, the U.S. Pizza Team, which oversees national contests for pizza-making skills such as stretching dough for length, stretching dough for speed, dough-spinning acrobatics and box folding, came to Renaissance Golf Club.
Holland entered Andrew.
There was just one problem: Stachey’s pizza boxes are made for either 12- or 16-inch pizzas. Boxes in the contest are for 14-inch pizzas.
So, Holland bought 1,000 of the 14-inch boxes for Andrew's training.
On the day of the contest a half-dozen or so Stachey's employees, including Holland, showed up at the golf club wearing "Team Andrew" T-shirts. He also had a few fans in attendance from the program at the high school.
"He, by far, had the most support," said Holland.
The box folding competition involved assembling five pizza boxes in the shortest amount of time.
Andrew was one of a dozen competitors.
"It was amazing watching him. I wanted to cry," said his mom, Kristyn Chartier. "I was worried that he might not react well to pressure, that he couldn't handle the excitement."
Mom was wrong.
Andrew reveled in the excitement. He ended up finishing fourth overall, missing third place by a hundredth of a second.
He seemed to love the spotlight.
His mother said she didn't initially realize the progress Andrew was making the first few years he worked at Stachey's.
Then, on Halloween a couple of years ago, he told her he wanted to dress up as a pizza chef.
"I realized he might really like his job,” she said. “So we got him a hat, the white jacket, and he was very happy."
It wasn’t until a year ago or so, when she brought Andrew in for a pizza at Stachey’s, that she realized what the place meant to him.
"We came in and everyone behind the counter shouted his name and came up to see him," she said. "It was as if he were a rock star."
Kristyn moved to North Andover from Lowell about eight years ago, in part because of the reputation of the town’s program for special needs students.
She believes she hit the jackpot.
"We still have challenging times with Andrew,” she said. “He needs to be active with structure. If he doesn’t, he can get very moody.
“And that's what this program has done for him,” she added. “I believe him working at Stachey's has given him purpose. It's helped him feel productive."
Holland said he hopes other businesses in the area give a chance to participants of the work program, which serves teenagers as well as young adults.
They are productive employees — and very happy for the work.
"Andrew gets off the bus in front and runs to our door," said Holland. "He high fives everybody. I wish all my workers were as excited as he is to come to work."
Kristyn said the program has helped transform her son, who graduated in 2018 and continues with it.
"Oh my God, I believe Andrew has come into his own thanks to the program at the high school and Stachey's," she said. "It's more than a pizza place to us."
Bill Burt is executive sports editor of The Eagle-Tribune. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.