By Brian Johnson
Dolan Media Newswires
Minneapolis — As Indiana Jones was to archaeology, Marc Mahowald is to the rock business.
Mahowald is the owner of Stone on Demand, an emerging Hudson, Wis.-based business that provides natural stone — including basalt, sandstone, limestone and quartzite — for everything from backyard birdbaths to thin veneer building exteriors.
But he specializes in basalt, imported from Washington state, and used in unusual creations such as, say, the 4,400-pound outdoor bar that he keeps in front of his business, or a propane-fueled fire pit, or a stone urn for a client’s departed pet, or the solid stone outdoor pingpong table for a well-heeled client in a Twin Cities suburb.
“If you can dream it, we can make it,” the sweatshirt-clad owner said as he showed off some of his offerings.
His story is as uncommon as his products.
Mahowald has traveled to a dozen countries, but he doesn’t appear to be part of the jet set. He enjoys working with his hands, and his fleet includes a battle-tested truck with a cracked windshield. (“I ran into a rock,” he explained.)
A welder by trade, Mahowald has done business in destinations as far away as Liberia, where he lived a life that would make good fodder for a Hollywood adventure film.
While in the African country in the 1990s, he mined gold and diamonds on behalf a local investor and later became a partner in the operation. At the time, Liberia was controlled by President Charles Taylor, who was later put on trial for war crimes.
The government always wanted a piece of the action, Mahowald said.
“The rules were, if you were diamond mining, anything over two carats you were supposed to give to the government,” he said. “They basically tried to control you.”
Once, the authorities detained him and temporarily seized his passport. Another time, when he was getting ready to sell his equipment, he got some threatening phone calls, presumably from someone who coveted Mahowald’s unsold equipment.
“They left me a message that they were going to put me in a body bag and send me home,” he said, adding that he got out of the country just six months before 9/11.
Today, Mahowald, 44, has a young family and he doesn’t travel so much. He said he enjoys working in his “yard,” which is filled with stone of all shapes and sizes, imported from quarries across North America.
Mahowald started his business 12 years ago in his Stillwater backyard. He outgrew that space and moved to Hudson in June 2007.
Now he has a broad array of equipment in the back lot of his Hudson shop, including a table saw with a 5½-foot blade and a hydraulic stone splitter with jaws powerful enough to split a hefty chunk of rock with ease.
One of his clients is Paul Vogstrom, owner of Paul Thomas Homes in Chanhassen. Together, they’ve worked on projects such as fireplaces, mantels and water features for high-end homes Vogstrom builds in the metro area.
Vogstrom said Mahowald is a hands-on, creative guy who has good connections and lots of ideas.
“He is always thinking about the next deal and he obviously knows what he’s doing,” Vogstrom said. “He has been great, a pleasure to work with. He has the same philosophy as me. He services the heck out of people and that is what it is all about and why he has been busy and stuck it out in this economy.”