News & Stories
January 5, 2024

Fired up for firewood!






It’s taken more than a good idea to spark one of the hottest small businesses in Atlanta, even if it does have fire in its name.

Leroy Hite (08C) recalls with a laugh the many times he joked with wife Makaila about buying a truck and starting a firewood business when the car he’d been driving since high school finally gave out.

His self-described “weird obsession” with “fancy firewood” – dating back to a failed entrepreneurial venture with Berry roots (more on that later) – had smoldered in the background for several years, all while he gained experience in sales, customer service and how to run a business at Chick-fil-A and, later, Enterprise Rent-A-Car.

It was in early 2013 that the odometer on his well-used Geo Prizm turned the last of its 266,000 miles, and suddenly it was put-up or shut-up time for the would-be entrepreneur. After an intense weekend of prayer, Bible reading and – something totally new for him – fasting, Hite decided to make good on his long-running “joke.” He needed a vehicle anyway, and with a new corporate job in Atlanta providing financial stability, the timing seemed right to start what he envisioned as a side gig – that is, until he reported to work the following Monday.

“They fired me on the spot,” Hite recalled. “I remember them telling me that it wasn’t a good fit, so they were letting me go. I didn’t hear anything else they said because I was already thinking, ‘OK. Apparently, I’m going to be doing this full time.’”

Leroy Hite, owner of Cutting Edge Firewood


More than a decade later, Hite can appreciate the turn of events that fueled creation of what is today one of Atlanta’s fastest-growing small businesses.

His formerly one-man, hyper-local initiative now boasts 30 employees and five delivery trucks operating out of a 50,000-square-foot warehouse. With a strong emphasis on e-commerce, the red-hot operation has expanded well beyond its original Georgia footprint. Hite’s team regularly delivers to customers in several Southeastern cities, while other shipping services have helped the company reach a total of 48 states.

The serendipity of his circumstances wasn’t so evident when Hite first was stoking the embers that became Cutting Edge Firewood in those initial days, weeks and months after he’d been fired, nor was the wisdom of the choices he made as he worked with Makaila’s support to get the barely flickering enterprise off the ground.

“Everybody thought I was crazy, and looking back, I might have been a little crazy,” he conceded. “I didn’t necessarily have a plan, but I was doing what I thought I was supposed to do, if that makes sense.”

Glow of opportunity
At this point, you may find yourself wondering how someone builds a successful business out of a product that’s readily available at a wide variety of retail outlets (not to mention the hand-painted “for sale” signs one often sees accompanying stacks of firewood on the side of the road). In Hite’s case, it was by focusing on every aspect of an industry he saw as ripe for disruption, from the quality of the product to how it’s supplied.

The result is a “lifestyle luxury brand” defined by high-end, “white-glove” service, with specially trained “delivery artisans” bringing racks of hand-picked, kiln-dried firewood directly to your front door, placing it wherever you wish and even demonstrating how to build the perfect fire.

Live outside the range of Hite’s delivery trucks? Not to worry. The quality and presentation of the product that’s shipped to your door is still first-rate, right down to the enclosed matches that guarantee a blazing fire on first strike.

 “Everybody thought I was crazy, and looking back, I might have been a little crazy. I didn’t necessarily have a plan, but I was doing what I thought I was supposed to do, if that makes sense.”

That’s not how it started – not by a long shot. There’s been a whole lot of trial and error along the way. Hite may prefer a “bullets before cannon balls” approach to moving his business forward, but he acknowledges there have been times when money spent on new ideas might as well have been burned in his fireplace.

Free samples? Nope. Mailers? Total bust. The list of steps and missteps goes on and on, from partnerships that went belly-up to acquisitions that easily could have ended in disaster. Through it all, he’s pleased to have found a path to success by emphasizing and elevating an experience that has drawn people together for centuries.

“There’s nobody on earth who dislikes a fire,” Hite asserted. “A 95-year-old man from Ethiopia or a 3-year-old girl from Georgia, they both sit in front of a fire and enjoy it. It’s universal. It’s unifying. It’s primal.”

Efficient and effective
Inspiration for Hite sprang from experiential learning opportunities (not always successful) that first took shape under the watchful eye of Dr. Paula Englis, Dana professor of management and entrepreneurship. Also impactful was wisdom shared by Garrett Professor of Business Administration John Grout, whose emphasis on the need to be efficient AND effective has always stuck with him.

“Be both,” echoed Hite. “Don’t focus on one or the other. Maybe something is more efficient, but it’s at the cost of important things. As you become more effective, you need to stay efficient. It’s a balance, a tension, a juggling act.”

The efficiency of Hite’s operation is evident in deliveries. In the early days, the labor-intensive process took two hours per customer, limiting reach and severely taxing the deliveryman (in this case, the owner himself).

“I would drive around with a Microsoft Surface Pro 3,” Hite described of 16-hour days defined by too few customers and far too many uneaten lunches. “You’d call me. I’d pull over on the side of the road, take your order and either deliver at that point or schedule out a few days. It was brutal, hard work.”


Upgrading to a larger truck with a powerful lift gate made things somewhat easier, but the real breakthrough came when Hite introduced easy-to-move covered racks of his own, since-patented design that brought delivery times down to 15 minutes once on site.

Effectiveness can be measured in the thousands of yard signs that have driven brand awareness in Metro Atlanta and early adoption of Google Ads and “search engine optimization,” which helps ensure that internet shoppers are directed to Cutting Edge. He’s also added cooking wood to the product line, bringing more consistency to a notoriously seasonal revenue stream.

The payoff is reflected in a customer base that continues to get bigger – 30,000 total since the company’s founding, including an impressive list of celebrity clients such as NFL Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw, country music stars Walker Hayes and Thomas Rhett, and chef Kevin Gillespie – and broader: More than half of all revenue now originates from out of state.

And then there’s the company’s growing media presence.

“There’s some cool things,” Hite said, pointing to attention from the likes of Fox and Friends, Today and Garden & Gun. “We’ve been on a Netflix show and Hulu, so a lot of fun stuff like that.”

Failing forward
While grateful for his success, Hite only recently settled on an affirmative answer to a question that’s long eaten at him: “Could I advise anybody else to do what I’ve done?”

There certainly have been bumps along the way, beginning with his first foray into firewood as a Berry student approached by two classmates seeking his involvement with the company they’d started. The business management major hadn’t given entrepreneurship much consideration as a career path to that point, but he accepted their offer, explaining, “It sounded like fun, so I said yes. I’ve always been a ‘Yeah, let’s go for it’ kind of guy.”

Over the next two-plus years, Hite learned just how much he didn’t know about the firewood business.

“I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” he lamented. “Everything was more expensive than we thought it was going to be. Everything was harder than we thought it was going to be, which is definitely a lesson I continue to master.”


Though that venture was snuffed out in 2009, certain elements live on in Cutting Edge. The yard signs are one example. Another is the notion of an “elevated experience” built around firewood.

When he started his own business four years later, more hard lessons followed, with Hite citing many instances when the flickering flame he’d lit could have been put out permanently.

On one occasion, he found himself with a mountain of debt and only $12 in the bank. Another time, Hite tried to take out a second mortgage on the family home only to find banks wouldn’t talk to him, so he and Makaila sold the house in order to invest everything they had in the business.

“Multiple times, my wife would say, ‘Should you just stop doing this?’” Hite related. “And I was like, ‘I think that God has kept it going. If I try to get a job somewhere else, I’d probably just get fired from that one too and have to come back to this.’”

Through the wilderness
Faith has played a big role in Hite’s story, and more than once it has been rewarded.

That weekend when he had only $12 in the bank? A restaurant called out of the blue with an order for $2,000 of decorative firewood. Similarly, when a $10,000 rent payment came due for the facility he’d taken over from a former supplier, a buyer turned up for a piece of equipment Hite recently had put up for sale. The cost? You guessed it.

“He offers me $10,000 cash,” Hite stated. “I take it and walk across the street and pay my rent.”

“You can’t be successful at any job without sacrificing time and effort and being uncomfortable and willing to push yourself.

In the midst of such potentially dire circumstances, strength was drawn from the Old Testament book of Exodus, specifically a sermon he listened to over and over again about Moses leading the captive Israelites out of Egypt while God fights on their behalf.

“Really, I just kind of held on to that,” Hite affirmed.

Growing up
Though difficulties persist, as with any business, Hite is comfortable declaring that the “child” that is Cutting Edge Firewood has grown beyond infancy, having not only survived but also thrived after the 2020 onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, when its distinctive service afforded customers the opportunity to share a special experience with family members even while homebound.

“Being a business owner compares very well to having a child,” said the father of four daughters. “As this business grows step by step, it becomes a little bit more independent. It’s not necessarily easier, but the stress is different and the work’s different, just like it’s different chasing a toddler around the house and then having a teenager.”

Mulling further on the question of whether he would advise someone else to follow his path with all that entails, Hite emphasized the importance of having conviction for something other than money – “it’s hard to risk what’s super important to you” – and the need for sacrifice in any worthy endeavor, whether it be family, friendship or career.

“You can’t be successful at any job without sacrificing time and effort and being uncomfortable and willing to push yourself,” he observed. “Being entrepreneurial is the same thing. It’s just taking it to the next level.”

For Hite, that next level was, quite literally, the Cutting Edge.

 Back to Top

Footer Menu