Yes, I had a life BKG (Before Kota Grill) and have a different life AKG (After Kota Grill). I would like to share with you the story of my first Kota encounter and why I am even here writing this to you.
Over three years ago I was on yet another long business trip in northern Germany, facilitating this time on the subject of 'customer centricity'. Tiring stuff, especially doing everything in German!
Anyway, the hotel where I was staying had removed the summer beer-garden furniture I employed from my previous stay only two months before. It was a damp cold that November night but I was nevertheless keen to enjoy my small after-dinner cigar whilst nursing a Jever Pils and Waldhimbergeist Schnaeppsle. Looking for a dry place to sit, my senses were drawn to the smell of wood smoke and the flickering of light through the front door window of a most unusual, hexagonal tee-pee-like wooden hut sitting exactly where the tables had stood months before. It looked at first glance like a place made ready for a family of Hollywood gnomes to move into.
Moving closer, I noticed a small sign on the door with the words Rauchen ist Gestattet!, (smoking is permitted!). Salvation at hand I opened the wooden door and stooped in. Inside was a wonderful, glowing wood fire! The logs and embers were burning safely inside a six-sided, raised metal grill smack in the middle of the hut. A giant metal hood and chimney vented the smoke up the centre through the top of the roof. And with benches against five of the six hut walls and a round wooden table that surrounded the grill, I sat down 'gobsmacked' and marvelling at this fabulous invention. Not only was this a place to enjoy my beer and cigar, but it offered me shelter from the cold, warmth from the fire, and a wonderful cozy space to converse with other people. OK, I was alone but still, there could not have been a better place to relax after a hard day of instruction. The experience was truly magical!
What I had metaphorically stumbled into was a Finnish tradition known as the Kota Grill or 'Grilli Kota', as I later learned. Like the sauna, this is a communal shelter, however in a kota, people gather not to sweat, but to sit around a wood fire to be together, to converse, cook, eat, drink, sing, smoke etc. I was blown away and, being a not so hardy Canuck in desperate love with the campfire experience, I naturally wanted one!!
Poking around, I discovered a brand name on the hood vent and set about googling the name I had found, Polar Metalli. A fast email response from the company revealed that while this 'lifestyle accessory' was already popular in Europe, there was virtually zero presence of this marvelous Scandinavian tradition in North American. How then was I going to get my own Kota Grill, I wondered?
It wasn't long before the opportunity light bulb went on. As a serial entrepreneur with a naive belief that if I think something is 'cool', others will surely agree, I contemplated the possibility that I might import these grills from Finland into North America. A sales-genius friend of mine once counselled, "just ask for the fries!" I believe that is exactly what I did because after several months of discussions, I became the exclusive North American importer of the best selling kota grill hardware available anywhere.
This was my first encounter with a Kota Grill and the earliest phase of this Kota Grill adventure. The story will continue with life AKG. Stay tuned...