Small Business Spotlight

Custom Creations

A woodworking hobby evolved into a money-making venture for an airline pilot and his business partner.

By Melissa Kossler Dutton
From the July 2013 issue of Columbus CEO

Anthony Stineburg began woodworking about seven years ago as a way to relax when he wasn’t at work. It was an interesting hobby that he could pursue during his days off as an airline pilot.

His first project was a workbench with a full set of drawersfor his father. After that, he started making wine cabinets and other pieces of furniture. Occasionally, he filled special requests for friends. That’s how he made his first butcher block.

A friend who works as a chef asked Stineburg to make a large butcher block for his home.When it was done, Stineburg didn’t want to part with the 2-foot by 3-foot maple piece.“I fell in love with it,” he says.

He wondered if the block, which he had created using the end grain of the wood rather than the edge grain, would appeal to others. He took a chance and launch a business, AJ Stineburg Woodworking Studio (now known simply as AJ Studio)“I decided I was going to find a space and put my tools in it,” says the Purdue University alumnus.

His goal was to create pieces that were beautiful and functional. A friend, Michael McGillicuddy, offered to help. McGillicuddy, who has a marketing degree from Ohio State University, look for ways to build the business and ts brand. “I was networking with people all the time,” McGillicuddy says. “I took this on not as an official position. It was fun to see if I could help grow it.”

McGillicuddy also learned to use the woodworking equipment. “I found I have of lot of interest in it,” says. “It’s kind of therapeutic.”

In April 2012, McGillicuddy landed a deal that moved the business another step forward. The company was chosen to create butcher blocks for the Rust & Grain product line created by the stars of the HGTV show“Cousins on Call.”

Anthony Carrino and John Colaneri, owners of Brunelleschi Construction in Jersey City, N.J., invited Stineburg and McGillicuddy to meet with them after McGillicuddy tweeted the cousins a photo of their work. The contractors, who do a lot of kitchen remodeling, were looking for products with an artisan flair for the Rust& Grain label.

After meeting with Carrino and Colaneri, McGillicuddy and Stineburg move to a bigger workshop and increase production. McGillicuddy joined the business full time. They took out a loan and used their savings to buy about $75,000 worth of equipment.“We’re deep in the pool,” says who still works for Shuttle America, part of Republic Airways Holdings. “It’s sink or swim. We’re both really committed to it. We both love it.”

The new equipment, mostly saws and sanders, allows the business partners to produce products more efficiently, McGillicuddy says. “We’re still making them by hand—it just cut out a few steps,” he says.

About a year ago, they started adding a single stripe of walnut wood to many of the pieces. They want the strip to become a symbol of their brand. “When I decided to start a business specializing in butcher blocks and cutting boards, I wanted to do something to set myself apart,” Stineburg says

AJ Studio sells products online and at Mix:Home in Clintonville. The owners hope working with Carrino and Colaneri will help them increase revenue to continue growing the business. “We’re pretty competitive,” Stineburg says. “We want to see our own brand outpace them.”

Jennifer Danver bought a butcher block about a year ago for her fiancé, who has worked as a chef. They display the piece on their table and use it almost daily. “It’s gorgeous,” says the Columbus resident. “It’s in the same condition as the day we bought it.”

The company also has attracted some corporate clients, including Cameron Mitchell Restaurants and the Wasserstrom Co. AJ Studio madeserving boards for Mitchell’s newest restaurant, the Pearl. They also have supplied custom cutting boards to a few other restaurants, and are working with Wasserstrom to produce a rustic-looking custom bread board for a restaurant in Houston.

Stineburg and McGillicuddy also give back to the community. A “Christmas Jar” collects donations year-round from friends and customershelp a family in need. The idea came from Stineburg’s father, who had read Jason F. Wright’s novel, "Christmas Jars."

Tricia Canfield, a Reynoldsburg resident and teacher who delivered the jar one year, says the funds went to a family with a seriously ill child.“It helped the family a great deal,” she says. “They have no idea where [the gift] came from.”

Melissa Kossler Dutton is a freelance writer.