Bourgholtzer got his start in 1999, when he found himself mesmerized by a glass blower at a local Renaissance fair. Always interested in being a professional artist, he graciously accepted an offer for apprenticeship, learning all he could.
Having run a Subway shop for years, he took those business skills and applied them to his new craft, teaching himself to make a list of 13 functional objects and scoring deals with catalog distributors. Soon after, he headed to Georgia and stayed with a friend for three months, learning the ins and outs of making pipes.
"I'm really big into the whole ceremonial aspect of it," he says. "The fact that the glass is actually a cleaner, healthier source, especially when you get into the water pipes and stuff."
Even beyond his personal interests as an entrepreneur in the glass-blowing field, making pipes is just the smarter move.
"Every time I'd make a pipe, I'd get to a point where it had a bottle shape to it, and I thought, 'I could just make a topper and make this a perfume bottle,'" he says, "but I knew if I made 50 of those, I may sell two, but if I made 50 of them that were pipes, I could sell every one of them."
Back in the early 2000s, there was no such thing as YouTube or Instagram. The world of glass blowing was small, tight-knit, and underground. There were only maybe a couple of blowers beside himself in the regional pipe business, and demand was high. Before long, Bourgholtzer had himself a proper studio, employees, a successful website, and a bunch of great distributor deals. Of course, everything changed for the industry when the feds caught on.
"Once I saw [the documentary] Degenerate Art, I was blown away to see all the guys I look up to and were part of the industry in the late '90s and early 2000s, we were all hit by Operation Pipe Dreams," he says. "The guy I was in business with was upstairs getting orders ready... and he comes flying downstairs letting me know the DEA was out in the West Coast shutting down one of the import distributors. We were all freaked out. We were like, 'All right, guys, this is it.'"