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Hearth & Home May 2018

From the Penthouse Collection, a contemporary outdoor kitchen with a Caliber Rockwell Social Grill, a Caliber Kamado, Perlick refrigerator, and custom tree planter boxes.

Urban Bonfire Outdoor Kitchens

By Lisa Readie Mayer

Two Canadian retailers-turned-manufacturers have introduced a new line of outdoor kitchens.

That’s how Ryan Bloom and Stefan Marchant felt soon after opening their barbecue retail store, Urban Bonfire, in 2013. Initially, grill sales accounted for 85% of total revenue at the Montreal store, with outdoor kitchen projects making up the remaining 15%. But within a couple of years, the situation had completely reversed and the retailers were spending 85% of their time on outdoor kitchen projects for customers.

Like many retailers trying to be in the outdoor kitchen business, the pivot did not come without pain. Having little experience in construction trades made it difficult to design, and hire subcontractors to build fully custom, masonry outdoor kitchens. Prefab outdoor kitchens were not a good solution, according to Bloom, because clients wanted more choices and options for customization. Even modular outdoor kitchen systems weren’t much of an improvement, because Bloom and Marchant felt they needed more design guidance and installation support than existing manufacturers offered.

“As an average retailer, it’s challenging to be successful in the outdoor kitchen business without having design and installation teams on staff,” Bloom says.

So the pair decided that, if they couldn’t find the kind of turnkey outdoor kitchens they desired, they would create a line themselves. Marchant, a professional engineer by training and head of Design at Urban Bonfire, designed a system of modular cabinetry components, and the retailers had the line manufactured locally to their specifications, including hand-welded, thick-gauge, marine-grade 5052 aluminum; stainless-steel drawer slides, door hinges and hardware; eco-friendly, VOC-free, powder-coat finishes; and other quality features.

From the Suburban Collection, this installation features a Lynx grill, sink, cabinets, shelves and ample countertop space, including custom planter boxes and a full-size tree planter box.

About four years ago, they started installing their new Urban Bonfire branded outdoor kitchens in customers’ homes throughout eastern Canada and in a few projects in the U.S. The line’s durability and performance has been field-tested in backyards, and on balconies and rooftops in the region’s harsh climate conditions.

“Montreal has the greatest temperature variances in North America, with cold, dry winters and swamp-like summers, so it was a good test environment,” says Bloom. The line passed with flying colors.

Their new system proved so easy to sell, design, and install, and was so well received by homeowners that Bloom and Marchant decided to offer it to other retailers throughout North America. They officially launched Urban Bonfire Outdoor Kitchen Collections this spring, hoping to be the kind of outdoor kitchen supplier they wished they had access to as retailers.

“We are not just selling cabinets or parts to dealers; we’re looking to forge partnerships with them and actually become their design team and manufacturing department,” says Bloom. “We will provide the professional support that the average retailer does not have access to on staff.”

The hand-holding starts with a dealer’s initial consultation with a homeowner or the homeowner’s architect or designer. Urban Bonfire has developed a questionnaire to help retailers gather pertinent information about the customer’s lifestyle, cooking habits, home, and outdoor space – even whether they are left- or right-handed – to inform the design of the outdoor kitchen. “We get down to the micro-details,” explains Marchant, “so we can design a completely customized and personalized outdoor kitchen.”

After the dealer submits the collected information to Urban Bonfire, the team uses it to create 3-D design concepts featuring the cabinetry modules, appliances, equipment, counter colors, and finishes, arranged in an ergonomic configuration best suited to the space – all within 72 hours. Once the dealer relays the customer’s feedback, Urban Bonfire completes the final design in about a week and, upon approval, proceeds with manufacturing the outdoor kitchen components, an estimated four-week process.

The company also provides technical plans to the dealers, so any electrical or plumbing work can be completed before the fully assembled modules are delivered. These individual components can be set in place, joined together, and completely installed in a matter of hours.

Urban Bonfire’s three collections – Penthouse, Urban, and Suburban – as well as a Saber Collection developed in collaboration with Saber Grills, are all designed with a modern aesthetic, straight lines, clean surfaces, and sleek and stylish hardware. The outdoor kitchens can accommodate various brands of built-in grills, kamados, pizza ovens, sideburners, cocktail stations, sinks, and refrigerators. Available storage modules include cabinets with heavy-duty, double-walled, full-overlay doors to keep out dust, keyhole drawer systems, and open shelving units with interchangeable wood or metal slatted shelves.

In addition to cooking islands, customers can also order coordinating bar islands, serving stations, storage islands for patio cushions, and planter units to grow herbs and other edibles in the Outdoor Room. Because an outdoor kitchen is often placed against a house or fence, Urban Bonfire offers the option of a backsplash wall that serves as a protective, easy-to-clean surface. The practical, slatted design of the backsplash is useful for hanging grilling tools, pots of herbs, and other gear.

Another thoughtful design feature: all dining counters, seating overhangs, and bar ledges are intentionally on the same level plane as work counters, rather than at a raised height. “This eliminates drainage and ice-formation issues,” according to Marchant. “Good design is uncomplicated, simple and solves problems.”

Cabinet finishes are available in four standard, powder-coat colors – anthracite, white, gold-brown, and matte black. Premium handles, available in several styles and materials, are included, as are Dekton countertops, in a choice of four standard finishes. The neutral color palette was selected to coordinate with most indoor and outdoor décor, according to Marchant, and materials were purposefully curated to ensure the outdoor kitchens are easy to clean, resistant to fingerprints, UV protected, and non-staining. “Most clients want their outdoor kitchen to look rich and high-quality, but they want as little maintenance as possible,” he says.

The company has also made installation as simple as possible. The individual modular sections link together with just four stainless-steel screws. An innovative “guillotine” toe-kick system easily adjusts to compensate for uneven deck or patio surfaces. “Most dealers are not skilled carpenters,” says Marchant, “so cutting a typical toe kick can be very challenging.”

The outdoor kitchen can be easily reconfigured, expanded with new components, or relocated at any time. “This is important,” according to Bloom, “because research shows Millennials will live in at least 3.5 homes. People can take this outdoor kitchen apart and move it with them,” he says.

From the Urban Collection, this outdoor kitchen has a small footprint, yet features a Caliber Pro Grill, a Marvel refrigerator, drawers and cabinets.

“Currently, the path to an outdoor kitchen is highly fragmented, and there is a tremendous disconnect between what consumers can do in an indoor kitchen, compared to an outdoor kitchen,” says Bloom. “People have the most fun outdoors, but they tend to invest the least amount of thought, design effort, and money in outdoor spaces. I believe designers, architects, and builders will eventually take the leadership role and include outdoor kitchens in the indoor kitchen design process, creating a unified look with seamless quality and aesthetics indoors and out. I think grills will be elevated to ‘cooking appliance status,’ and will no longer be just an afterthought.”

He hopes Urban Bonfire Outdoor Kitchens will help advance that process. “There are other very good outdoor kitchen options available, but they have functional issues, and as retailers, we saw the challenges in trying to sell, design, and install them,” says Bloom. “Rock islands with built-in door and drawer components, have a lot of wasted space, are not expandable or moveable, and the weight prevents them from being installed on most roofs, decks, or balconies. Our system is light enough to go on a rooftop, and can even be moved off easily when the roof needs to be replaced every 10 years or so.”

Bloom says his company’s turnkey products and professional support services fill a missed opportunity for dealers to increase sales beyond simply supplying grills and door-and-drawer components for others’ outdoor kitchen projects. He says Urban Bonfire Collections’ outdoor kitchens are an “affordable luxury.” Entry prices for a basic, 7-ft., outdoor kitchen, including cabinetry, countertop, and premium grill, start around $9,900, and can go up considerably from there. The Urban Bonfire team also plans to offer sales training and marketing support to its dealers.

Their retail store has been converted to a showroom, welcoming consumers, designers, and other clients six days a week, to browse outdoor kitchen vignettes, grill brands, and supporting accessory items for building into Urban Bonfire outdoor kitchens. The showroom will also host outdoor kitchen design seminars for local architects and landscape firms, and continues to be offered as event space for local charities and community causes.

“We know we are relevant and add value to the dealer who wants to be in the outdoor kitchen business but doesn’t have the design staff or construction capability,” Bloom adds. “Historically, the outdoor kitchen business has been a pain in the butt for many dealers. We have learned the business the hard way by trial and error. We teach our dealers the best practices, learned through our mistakes.

“We’ve taken the time to develop this line from a retailer’s perspective,” he says. “We’ve made it as simple, turnkey, and efficient as possible for the dealer. The less time they need to spend on a project, the more money they can make.”

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