Like many successful ventures, Mountain Flame evolved from a combination of hard work and coincidence.
It was in Hollywood fashion Catskill Mountain style that Brian and Marcia Olenych literally packed up all of their belongings in a 1963 pickup truck and moved from Newark, NY to the Catskills in 1978.
Brian was a recent graduate of Delhi College and both had fallen in love with the area. It was decided, the Catskill Mountains would be their new home. "Brian became a chimney-sweep and we decided to see if we could build a business," Marcia recalled nostalgically.
The chimney cleaning business steadily grew, but it was an idea from a customer that moved the Olenych’s lives into a newer and more environmentally friendly direction. In the course of a conversation, the homeowner showed Brian an article about "radiant heating fireplaces" built from brick. The idea was immediately appealing and a short-time later, Brian was building such a fireplace in the couple's house. By early 1980, Mountain Flame was established.
In the early years the company specialized in brick and tile heaters. The business grew again in 1986 when Brian and Marcia traveled to Finland to meet the Tulikivi family for themselves. There, they toured the Tulikivi factory and were introduced to the marvels of radiant heating with soapstone. The couple didn't need convincing that soapstone fireplaces would become the focal point of Mountain Flame.
Brian and Marcia quickly became an official Tulikivi dealer. Despite the fact that they didn't have any customers ready for this product, they mortgaged their home and ordered enough stone to build nine fireplaces. Fortunately, the couple's optimism was soon echoed by customers in the market for an efficient, environmentally friendly, efficient, and aesthetically pleasing heat source.
The following year, Brian and Marcia constructed a workshop and warehouse near their home. They soon added a small showroom in which to display a few of their soapstone offerings. By 1995 they had significantly expanded the showroom. Then in 2003 they bought there own place in Arkville NY and built a custom 2000 sq. ft . showroom dedicated to soapstone. Now hundreds of Tulikivi fireplaces later, the company has a network of dealers trained in the art of soapstone fireplaces spread out through the New England and New Jersey.
Marcia is the company's information source (among numerous other titles!) and has the job of spreading the word about the wonders of soapstone. She said that the biggest change over the years is the awareness that many people have about the product.
"Many people understand the concept of radiant heat much better than they did in the early years now they tell me about it," she laughs.
Marcia explained that as more people have become enlightened regarding environmental and health concerns, the interest in soapstone heating products has grown. Furthermore, she notes, the attraction of soapstone goes beyond these basics.
"People realize that soapstone fireplaces are built to last. Plus, they're so beautiful, they become part of the family," she adds.
While this concept may seem curious to those unfamiliar with soapstone products, Marcia knows firsthand of the inexplicable bond that develops between people and their soapstone heaters.
"We have one customer who didn¹t want the winter to end, because they didn¹t want to stop burning their fireplace," she marvels. And, today, there are more soapstone products to love than ever.
Since they became Tulikivi representatives more than 20 years ago, Marcia said the amount of choices for customers is the most significant change in the business. "We can do a huge amount of customizing in our shop and Tulikivi’s design facilities have really grown offering a tremendous amount of options in size, style, and customer preference."
To keep up with the latest developments, Brian and Marcia have made many trips to Finland over the years. The company¹s other employees Brian and Marcia¹s son, Jake, and Marcia¹s brother, John Monje have also made the trip.
"We feel it’s really important to keep up with the advances to learn firsthand about anything new in the industry," Brian notes.
Along with the rapidly growing list of options for soapstone fireplaces, Marcia said the other major area of growth includes sinks, countertops, floors and tiles. These are also a major portion of our soapstone business. We fabricate the custom sinks and countertops in our shop. That enables us to establish a personal relationship with each customer and allows them to get exactly what they want. The custom countertops, sinks, and tile are displayed at the company’s Mountain Flame showroom.
"It¹s a unique product, it is a green product and it is a product people can truly love," stated Marcia.
Anyone who has experienced the wonders of soapstone will wholeheartedly agree.