By Sandra Coopersmith
What symbolizes summer more than kicking back in the yard on a sublimely sunny day, sipping a cool, refreshing drink while grilling something succulent on the barbeque? Mmmm . . .
To enjoy outdoor living to the max, check out Armand's Fireplace and Barbeque Equipment at 9400 Venice Blvd. at the southwest corner of Main St./Bagley Ave., a family-owned business and Culver City fixture in the same location for as long as anyone can remember, way back to when it was originally owned by Armand Kahan who dealt in home-related products of a different nature.
"It started as a vacuum and sewing machine shop, with sales, service and demonstrations," said Simone Steinberg. Her husband, Howard Steinberg, added that "my father bought Armand's in 1963 and ran the store as a sewing machine and vacuum cleaner store until 1979 when I bought it, 35 years ago." "Howard continued in the original vein with vacuums and sewing machines," Simone said, "but in 1981 he added barbeques to the mix."
"I love to smoke ribs," Howard said. "I think that is my favorite. A good dry rub, slow smoke them and finish off on the barbeque. So, I added barbeques because I like them!"
Simone elaborated that "he wanted one for himself and thought of sharing his love for barbeques with some of his customers by offering them for sale. They were an instant hit. The first three sold immediately, so he ordered and kept ordering."
It was an excellent business decision.
"Barbeques are fantastic for California living," Simone explained. "They are not as seasonal as in other parts of the country. We sell charcoal, natural gas and liquid propane models of barbeques and the accessories for all. The perfect complement to barbeques is fireplaces. Both are fire-related. We sell everything from the actual fireplace to everything that goes in one, gas logs or wood-burning accessories to the tools and all types of enclosures, freestanding or attached doors." Armand's is an authorized dealer for many major fireplace and barbeque manufacturers.
Although the business revolves around products that utilize fire, fire has not always been a friend to Armand's.
"In 1976 there was a Standard Oil gas leak which caused an explosion on Venice Blvd.," Howard recalled. "The store was closed for about one week. In December of 1988 there was an electrical fire in the store which caused a closure for about one month."
But on the whole, Armand's has flourished, even including outdoor refrigerators and patio heaters in its product line. When visiting the website, www.armandsdiscount.com, clicking on the Virtual Showroom link will expose the viewer to a veritable treasure trove of barbeque and fireplace equipment.
Although the website is quite comprehensive, Howard believes "visiting the showroom is the best way to touch and feel the products customers are interested in purchasing. Our knowledgeable staff can assist clients with helpful and useful information about the different products. Personal explanations are usually a plus for most customers. And at different times throughout the year we have manufacturers' demonstrations on the different products."
There will be an enticing display to behold this Saturday, May 24, when Armand's has its annual Memorial Day weekend sidewalk sale.
"Customers have told us they wait for this BIG sale," Simone said. "Being in business for so long we get a lot of repeat customers. People who have bought a barbeque over 10 years ago might come back on the day of the sale and remind us they bought their barbeque all those years ago and they were waiting to come back on that day. We have had as many as nine different companies fire up their grills on that day. In addition to this, we have been known to fire up our wood-burning pizza oven on a Saturday and toss around some yummy pizzas to serve to our customers and show off the pizza oven." And she has confirmed that pizza will definitely be on the agenda this Saturday.
Armand's carries a large array of products to satisfy one's outdoor living needs, with patio heaters gaining in popularity for residential use. "If the people are anything like me, always cold, everyone will buy one of these heaters for their backyard," Simone said.
As part of its "sell, install and service" business plan, Armand's will go to the homes of customers and assist with design and placement of anything related to the outdoor kitchen. It offers in-home measurement and design of custom fireplace needs as well as many standard fireplace door enclosures and fireplace accessories.
Licensed general contractors, architects and interior designers are encouraged to visit and bring their plans, and Armand's will assist with product advice for fireplace and barbeque installations.
"We do not have a mission statement per se," Simone said. "However, we strive to offer the best service and personal attention we can." And it definitely helps to do what you love, love what you do, and do it so well that you elicit comments such as those of Andy Viault, owner of H.A.S. Construction, Inc., a Culver City-based general contractor serving a wide range of clients both within and outside the area. He spoke highly of Armand's.
"We have more than 25 years of experience working with Howard and Armand's," Viault said. "We could go anywhere for fireplaces and gas grills but there is no one with better selection, more knowledge or better service in Los Angeles."