Grilling experts know that timing is crucial for success. The same holds true for launching a new business.

Three Columbia businessmen appear to have mastered the timing for both ventures, experiencing rapid growth in their barbecue-smoker manufacturing business while earning top honors in barbecue competitions. In less than four years, Spicewine Ironworks has drawn national attention from top competitors as well as local backyard barbecue buffs.

Owners Jay Curry, Steve Curry and Randy Ham, who also own Columbia Welding next to Spicewine Ironworks, share a background in fabrication and welding as well as a love for down-home barbecue. So the move to designing and manufacturing custom-made smokers was a natural wedding of their work and play.

The venture started when Jay Curry was unable to find a barbecue smoker that suited him, so he set about building a custom smoker for his backyard use. That was nearly four years ago, and Jay’s back yard is still empty. “We’re about 15 smokers behind right now and have a 12-week waiting period. Maybe I should put myself on the list,” Jay Curry jokes.

Evidently, the custom-made smokers are worth the wait. Michele Kowalski of Manorville, N.Y., just ordered her third Spicewine smoker in 14 months. Late in 2006, Kowalksi and her husband, Guy, ordered a large smoker for competition use. Since then, they’ve purchased a small smoker for home use, and they recently ordered a mid-size unit, also destined for competitive cooking.

Kowalski is one of the five Kowalski family members who make up the “2 Fat Polocks” [sic] competitive barbecue team. Kowalski said the 2 Fat Polocks team just won Reserve Grand Champion, using a Spicewine smoker, at a national barbecue competition in Saville, N.Y.

“People ask us about the Spicewine smoker all the time,” Kowalski said. “We absolutely love it. It’s insulated and has a longer burn time, which means we can get some sleep at these competitions.”

Steve Curry, a former welding instructor, agrees that the national barbecue competition circuit is helping with the company’s Internet marketing efforts. “People could see them on the Web site, but being able to see them up close and personal is really starting to snowball the sales,” he said.

“Our smoker business is up 180 percent this year,” Jay Curry said. According to the Curry brothers, there are about 40 Spicewine smokers in Columbia and 50 in central Missouri; the remaining smokers are scattered throughout the country.

Spicewine Ironwork owners also are enhancing sales efforts in climates not hindered by a short barbecue season. “We’ve just signed on with a distributor from Florida, and they barbecue year round down there,” Jay Curry said. Steve said the company already has an order for 20 smokes from Florida clients.

Jay Curry said Spicewine also has been approached by a distributor who wants exclusive rights to sales in Colorado. Spicewine owners are reluctant to sign on, however. “We just can’t produce enough right now. We’re at a young stage in our business,” Jay said. Currently, all three owners work full time at Spicewine, and Jerry Curry, a cousin to the Curry brothers, has taken over operations at Columbia Welding.

Still, Jay is worried that the barbecue craze could fade. “I don’t want to hire someone full time then have the bottom fall out,” he said.

Other revenue streams for Spicewine include a line of dry rubs and sauces available nationally via the Spicewine Web site and locally at Schnucks, Hy-Vee and Buckingham’s. Two new sauces are in development, with one possibly hitting store shelves by next spring. Spicewine uses Missouri bottlers and packagers for rubs and sauces.

Kowalski said that her “2 Fat Polocks” competition team uses Spicewine’s rubs and sauces at national competitions throughout the Northeast United States. “We do us their products. That’s a secret, though,” Kowalski laughed. “They’re really good, and when we combine it with different things, it gives us a great end product.”

Spicewine Ironwork’s Heffer Dust just won World Champion Honors, among hundreds of entries from throughout the country, at the 2007 American Royal Barbecue Contest earlier this month.

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