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8-4-17

Blazing an artistic trail
- Local grass roots business catches the eye of the southeast


Photo Above: Owners Jonathan and Melissa McCray surrounded by some of their fire pits on display at one of the many craft shows they attend. . -Photo: Submitted


Southern Fire Pits signature eagle design. -Photos: Submitted

By Gabrielle Stevenson


Since March 1 of this year, a unique new business in Mayo, Florida has quickly taken the state, and now the southeast region, by storm. Local man, Jonathan McCray, is the creator and owner of Southern Fire Pits, a business selling handcrafted fire pits, fire rings and spheres that leave customers and fans mesmerized.


McCray is an artist that has taken his drawings to metal, using a plasma cutter to cut intricate and elaborate hand drawn artwork into his fire pits and other wares. When his pieces are lit with fire, the scenes he creates come to life in the blaze, surely creating backyard envy for any owner of these beautiful fire pits.


McCray described their process, “ Everything we make is out of repurposed propane gas tanks, then we cut them off, draw scenes out by hand and they’re hand cut in a plasma cutter.” No stock images are used to create these intricate designs. Everything is done by hand, whether the task is a custom order, or part of their regular series of items, no two fire pits will ever be absolutely identical. These fingerprint fire pits will be around for years to come, as their handcrafted quality is unmatched.


New fire pit designs and bigger, bolder products are coming out of this virtually infant business all the time. One of their newer fire pit designs called “The Death Star” is a huge spherical fire pit that caught many a Star Wars fan’s eye with it’s amazing detail and sheer size. The sphere weighed in at about 550 pounds.


McCray said they receive a pretty even mix of orders from both Southern Fire Pits’ series line of products and custom orders. McCray’s artistic skill and commitment to quality is evident in all his projects, small or large. He and his enthusiastic team are ready to take on the creative challenges of their fast-growing customer base, but McCray says he plans to expand with careful steps. He and his wife, Melissa McCray, built the company from the ground up and are truly enjoying this new entrepreneurship.


McCray commented, “We love this. This is all our idea. We haven’t borrowed any money to put into this. We didn’t ask for help from anybody. We don’t have any investors. What you see right now is 100% what we started from a nine hundred dollar budget.” While McCray has been creating these fire pits for the past six years, it was really just a weekend gig he had a passion for until November of 2016 when he said his wife talked him into taking his fire pits to an arts and crafts show. “I was a law enforcement supervisor for the inspector general. Took two weeks off, worked daylight to dark and built twelve fire pits. We went to Christmas on the Square in Live Oak and we sold out in an hour and a half. Then we didn’t say a word to each other the whole ride home. There were pits from two hundred to five thousand dollars. So there was complete silence on the ride home,” he and his wife chuckled at their unique ‘catalyst’ memory that left them in awe. The decision to start the business full time needed no discussion. The passion for creating the supply had discovered its popular demand with just one experiment arts show - sold out.


Southern Fire Pits also has big plans to be involved in their local community, whether it be through donations to good causes or their frequent custom fire pit giveaways, the McCrays truly have a business with heart. “This is mostly a family deal. All of my boys work here. We have several young welders and that’s something we’re starting to put back into. We use a lot of teenagers that are in high school, juniors and seniors, that are going into welding programs. We would really like to help support a welding program here at the school,” said McCray.


In 2018, the McCrays hope to work from a brand new 8,500 square foot building with room for more projects and bigger possibilities. They are coming out with new design series all the time. “Our main thing is fire pits. We have several grills in production. They’re not regular grills, they’re high end grills with reverse flow smokers with different scenes on them. We’re actually adding art to the grills. We have several gates we build that are real high end gates. They’re 3D, it’s not your normal plasma cut table.”


For Southern Fire Pits, the future is looking bright and when The Times asked Jonathan and Melissa McCray if they had a particularly favorite piece, there was no hesitation. Their favorite is the eagle fire pit, another signature for the business. “That kind of symbolizes who we are. We are American, from the ground up.” He said they turn down investors every week and for a simple reason, “We really have no desire to be a multi-million dollar company. We’re small strong.”
Southern Fire Pits is located at 587 East Main Street in Mayo, Florida


To contact them, call (386) 294-1414, visit their webisite at www.southernfirepits.com or find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/southernfirepits.


Southern Fire Pits crew hard at work in the shop. -SVT Photo by Gabrielle Stevenson


The crew stands in front of their shop in Mayo. Front Row (L-R): Alex Hawkins, Ryan Koon, Oshean Simpson, Zachary Bridges, Austin Edwards. Back Row (L-R): Lucus Linton, Jerrette Linton, Kellen Vincent, Melissa McCray and Johnathan McCray.
-SVT Photo by Gabrielle Stevenson