In a warehouse on East Pine Street, there are rows and rows of boxes, each holding a barbecue grill.
They aren’t typical grills. They are brawny brutes, each with a thick hide of gleaming steel, hulking oversized knobs and ready to blast from 0 to 500 degrees in a few minutes.
The grills cost $1,300 on up, and they are not the use-’em-and-trash-’em grills you might see at a big block retailer.
“The Last Grill You’ll Ever Buy,” promises the maker, Bull Outdoor Products. The grills are a signature offering for Bull, whose products range from bottles of barbecue sauce to stylish, sprawling outdoor kitchens that run many thousands of dollars.
Bull is headquartered in Lodi, and may be the least-known international company based in the community. It has 100 employees along with 900 distributors selling Bull products in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
And it is growing steadily, reflecting a continuing trend of people cooking, sipping and chilling out in their backyards.
“No question — we were on the frontier of the outdoor kitchen movement,” said Mark Nureddine, the undisputed master of the Bull empire. “It’s a dynamic market, and we intend to keep growing with it.”
Nureddine, 52, owner and founder, grew up in Ontario, in San Bernardino County, mowing lawns and tossing newspapers. He now controls a company with bright prospects and $35 million in annual revenue.
Asked if he enjoyed any hobbies or sports in high school, Nureddine replied, “No. I didn’t have time. I worked.”
While studying at Chaffey High School, he took side jobs in the construction trades, roofing, framing and pouring concrete.
After graduation, he studied architecture and drafting at the Phoenix Institute of Technology, then joined a spa company in Southern California.
He learned it all. He built spas, repaired them, sold them. The owner shared an insight that stuck with Nureddine.
“He told me, ‘Mark, lots of guys can build spas and lots of guys can sell them. Not many can build them and sell them.’”
Even in his early 20s, Nureddine knew he wanted to run his own business. So he and a partner, who also worked at the spa company, decided to go out on their own.
They did not want to compete with their former boss in the spa sector. Instead, they started building outdoor kitchens, which they’d seen at a few backyard expos.
“This was in 1992, and the idea of backyard kitchens was just catching on,” Nureddine said.
He eventually bought out his partner, and kept Bull growing. His sister, Nadia Bartlam, lives in Lodi. After several years of visiting the area, Nureddine and his wife, Barbara, decided to move here in 2013 with their children, Jacob, 23, who works full-time at Bull, Luke, 19, and Abigail, 15.
“It’s quieter here than in Southern California,” Barbara said. “And we like the small-town feel of Lodi.”
When the Nureddines moved to Lodi, they brought the company, too, at least the corporate offices and a distribution warehouse. The grills are made in China and outdoor kitchens are fabricated in Rialto, in Southern California, and Athens, Tenn.
Ironically, there is no Bull dealer in Lodi, though there are outlets in Manteca and Sacramento, and many Bull products are available online. Bull’s emphasis is squarely on quality. Each carries a long-term or even lifetime guarantee for key components.
“Our grills don’t have a lot of frills. But they are made from the best materials. The stainless steel is near-surgical quality. The hoods are all dual-lined. They are made right, and they will last for generations,” said Wade Fortin, marketing manager.
The grills are noted for bringing the heat.
“Our customers love how hot our grills get, and how quickly they get hot,” he said.
Fortin speaks from experience, as he is a former chef and food service director in Chicago. He who won his first Bull grill, an Angus model, after taking first place in a national burger competition in Las Vegas.
The market for grills has expanded upward, Fortin said, with more people willing to pay for enhanced performance and durability.
“This used to be a market with only Ford Escorts. Nobody heard of a Lexus. Our grills are at the Lexus level,” he said.
While the company is steeped in simplicity, it is also innovative. Bull now produces pizza ovens and a full line of barbecue accessories.
There are Bull sauces and rubs, Bull pizza stones, Bull bamboo cutting boards and Bull pit mitts. The company also has plans to market a pellet smoker.
In its marketing materials and online blog, Bull stresses that grilling isn’t just for meat anymore. There are recipes for grilled watermelon gazpacho, grilled cheesy sweet peppers and fire-roasted veggie frittata.
“Our whole goal is not to just sell a grill, but to get people to use the grill, use it often, and enjoy being in their backyard,” Nureddine said.
Nureddine owns vineyards near Lodi and a custom grape and wine processing company, Lodi Crush. He also has three outdoor-oriented retail stores in Southern California selling Bull products. That keeps him close to consumers and their preferences, he said.
He’s reflected deeply on being an entrepreneur and has written a book capturing his insights, “Pocket Mentor: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Building a Lasting Business from Scratch.”
The toughest part of creating the Bull empire? “Growth. You have to make hard decisions about where to grow, who to hire and how to make sure your vision continues to radiate throughout the business,” he said.
He thrives on hard work and the challenge of running a vibrant operation, but when he has the time, he tends to his collection of vintage and exotic cars, including a prized 1967 Chevelle
He is proudest, he said, of building a company that has endured — and is positioned to flourish into the future.
“To me, the money is not the big thing. It’s that the company is sustainable. It employs a good number of people, some of whom have been with us more than 20 years, and it should continue for many years to come.”