Buyers might go nuts for inventor's squirrel 'bar'
A nutty idea has led to a potential business boom for a west Columbus woodworker whose first products already are being sold across the U.S.
Mike Dutko, 34, has requests for a patent and trademark pending, as well as aspirations for an appearance on the "Shark Tank" reality-television show, to market the Nutty Bar, a handmade squirrel feeder that has labeled silos filled with varieties of nuts. The feeder was inspired by the arrangement of craft-beer handles one might see at a neighborhood tavern.
Among the varieties on tap for a squirrel’s pleasure are Almond Ale, Peanut Pilsner and Walnut Stout.
For human entertainment, another sign says, “Restrooms: Nuts, No Nuts,” with arrows pointing in opposite directions.
Dutko shipped out his first two orders Sept. 30: one to West Hollywood, California, and the other to Scarborough, Maine.
They represented the first two of 150 Nutty Bars on order. Many already are finished, with more expected to be ready this month. After that, additional orders will be filled, Dutko said.
The orders, placed via etsy.com, are all Dutko said he could handle until he finds a way to market and mass produce the Nutty Bar.
“It’s been a crazy ride,” said Dutko, who has three young daughters and a teenage stepson with his partner, Christina Wells.
He has been filling orders inside the garage that houses his workshop in Sweetwater Estates in Columbus. The neighborhood is just south of Hilliard's city limits, north of Renner Road and east of Spindler Road.
Dutko already has a few extra pairs of hands to help meet demand, including those of Tim Latorre, 48, of Galloway.
Dutko and Latorre became acquainted when Dutko made wooden beer handles for a Gahanna tavern when both men were working for the Columbus Distributing Co.
Dutko now works full-time as a cost manager for Diyanni Homes but his new hobby-turned-profession could grow into a full-time gig, he said.
“I have always loved woodworking,” he said.
He picked up the hobby from his grandfather, Harmon “Duke” Dutko, a former chief of the Columbus Division of Fire.
Dutko retired as fire chief in 1997 and died in 2016, said Dutko, a 2004 graduate of Thomas Worthington High School in Worthington.
In June, Dutko began posting videos on his You Tube channel, Duke Harmon Woodworking LLC, named in memory of his grandfather.
“He was a big influence on my life, and I couldn’t think of a better name," he said.
His idea for the Nutty Bar came from his neighborhood.
In mid-July, a neighbor’s daughter was bird-watching with binoculars but not having much success because of the squirrels, Dutko said.
That's when he thought about a way to keep the squirrels occupied.
“It all began with thinking of a way to help her," he said. "After thinking about it that night, I had the design in just a few hours.”
After sketching a design and building a prototype, Dutko shared it on Reddit website in late July. He asked on a group specific to woodworkers if anyone would change anything about the concept or design.
In mid-August, the Upworthy website, which has a large social-media following, took a screenshot of Dutko’s Reddit post and shared it.
“That’s what really got it started,” said Dutko, who incorporated Duke Harmon Woodworking in August. “It blew up. My phone started sounded like a slot machine that hit the jackpot" because of alerts for people commenting on the post.
Orders began arriving, and Dutko was apprehensive that he could meet him, he said.
Then he got a call from Latorre.
“I asked him if he thought he needed any help,” Latorre said.
Dutko gladly accepted, he said.
Dutko drills, assembles, sands and seals the feeders, but he uses a computer-numerical control machine to engrave them.
For now, Dutko said, he will fill the orders placed through Etsy, but he has been approved to sell through Amazon when he can show that he can fill orders at the required rate.
That's where "Shark Tank" comes in, to which he has applied to obtain funding for mass production, he said.
Dutko said he also expects to know within three months whether the patent and trademark for which he has applied are granted.
He also is in discussions with a cable network to produce a series that would illustrate his construction of animal-centric feeders and problem-solving critters “in a heartfelt way,” Dutko said.
Meanwhile, calls are coming in for other products.
“A rehabilitation center in Pennsylvania called to ask if I could make a ‘bird condo’ to put if front of their center (and) I got a call about opossum feeders, too," he said.
“So we’ve got some new ideas flowing."