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Enjoy San Joaquin Valley Living

Matt Thomas Creates Personal Retreats with Backyard Bar

May 29, 2019 11:00AM ● By Enjoy Magazine

Backyard Paradise

June 2019 
Story by Natalie Caudle
Photos by Kelli Avila
and Photos Courtesy of Backyard Bars

AS SUMMER CREEPS by, the beach calls and the mountains beckon, but many are trapped in air-conditioned office cubicles, unable to explore the great outdoors. Not only can one’s blood pressure be lowered and anxiety be reduced by actually stopping and smelling the roses, but sitting in a natural environment can boost mood, increase
self-esteem and, in some cases, sharpen concentration abilities. 

Matt Thomas recognized this basic need of humanity and challenged himself to create the perfect outdoor space right in his own backyard. The need to escape didn’t require a passport or a lengthy journey, only a few steps outside into the perfect garden oasis. 

In 2016, Thomas created Backyard Bars, an outdoor space design and production company

that specializes in original bar creations. Valley residents are finding themselves renewed at the watering hole right outside their own back door. Thomas has changed Saturday nights from a night on the town to a night in the yard. 

A 2008 graduate of El Diamante High School, Thomas followed the route of many Visalians and attended College of the Sequoias, then decided it was time to embark on a new adventure and moved to Santa Barbara. An avid guitarist and singer, Thomas pursued opportunities to play and record music. Due to happenstance, and motivated by a fear of being homeless, Thomas found a place to live in an old combination recording studio/woodshop, just a few blocks from the ocean. Part of the rent agreement involved Thomas assisting the shop’s owner with woodworking. Thomas

hadn’t been trained in the skill and art of woodworking. The closest he had come to creating furniture had been assembling a few skate ramps when he was a tween. Despite Thomas’ lack of exposure to the craft, the shop’s owner recognized Thomas’ ability and took him under his wing, teaching him the skills of the trade. 

In the summer of 2016, back in Visalia, Thomas and a team of friends built an outdoor bar for a wedding reception. The process was lengthy and involved much trial and error, but the end result was a masterpiece. Wedding guests sipped and laughed around the first piece built by Backyard Bars and by the end of the evening two more custom creations had been ordered. Word began to spread and the business took off. 

Thomas and the team of builders use new materials and perfectly aged cedar, pine and redwood to build the made-to-order bars complete with corrugated metal roofs and custom accents. Some bars are modest in design, while others feature stringed lights and shelving for storage and decorative display. Thomas enjoys the simple yet effective technique of making common backyards into entertaining outdoor spaces. “I like building something I know people are going to congregate at. We know how important our bar is to us and we want to create that experience for someone else,” he says. Thomas enjoys incorporating the customer’s personal elements and materials into the motif. Depending on the customer, unconventional designs may include using old fruit bins, creating a cantina-style bar, or by cutting and fitting together portions of old wine crates as he did when creating a one-of-a-kind bar for La Piazza Italian Restaurant in Tulare. 

Some days are better than others in the bar-making business. Before Thomas found a perfectly sized trailer, the team of sanders, stainers and cutters would rent one and hope the bar would be delivered in one piece, sometimes requiring multiple stops and snail-paced driving.

Building a business from the ground up has involved some hiccups, but Thomas’ family has always supported his venture. Thomas prides himself on not being afraid to try new things and recognizes that many days involve more disasters than successes. But in the end, Thomas says, “It’s a lot of fun. I just want to continue to grow the business and share it.” 

Backyard Bars can be found at home and garden expos throughout the Valley and will be moving west this summer to incorporate the area of San Luis Obispo, as well. Thomas has a gregarious spirit and encourages expo passersby, master grillers and party hosts to stop by the booth for a quick chat. 

Thomas continues to improve his skills and techniques. When he isn’t studying to become a real estate agent or building new pieces, Thomas watches Jeff Mack Designs on YouTube, gleaning tricks from a master wood builder. The woodworking component of the business is satisfying for Thomas, especially when everything is cut perfectly. But, his true joy is when the bar is delivered. “I love seeing how happy the customer is and knowing how valuable this piece will be in making memories,” he says. 

Summer nights have grown a little more perfect beneath twinkling lights in local yards. Escaping the stresses of work and life no longer involves a complicated trip out of town. The formula for relaxation is simple and can easily be found in your own backyard. •

Backyard Bars • (559) 679-7988

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