Cooking up a new venture with local bamboo

As comfortable behind the camera as he is in front of it, Bulldog Group Productions’ Erich Briehl can now be seen manning a table stacked with bamboo charcoal for sale. We knew he must be on to something, so we asked him a few questions.

YELpromoted-1114We’ve seen you Saturdays at the Slow Foods Market, and then on Sundays in front of the Robert Abuda Salon on the Paseo de Montejo, selling bags of charcoal labeled Yucabam. It’s not just any charcoal, is it? Can you tell me about it?

Well the charcoal that I am selling is not your run-of-the mill coal. It is made from the canes of bamboo poles that were harvested primarily for construction purposes. The trimmings, which normally would be considered scrap, are salvaged and cooked in a special oven to produce charcoal.  The product comes from a local hacienda, just south of Merida, which falls into line with our presence at the Slow Food Market (products from local providers) as well as being an eco-friendly choice. The charcoal is not made with common techniques used in mega charcoal industries, like the use of petroleum products or similar chemicals in the charring process. Bamboo Charcoal is easy to light and requires no lighter fluid to get it started. The end result is a much more pure and safe charcoal that doesn’t add a “gassy” flavor to your food, and is safe enough to put in your garden for adding nutrients to the soil.

Erich Briehl
Erich Briehl is spreading the word about the benefits of bamboo.

There must be a story behind how you came to get involved with Yucabam, the brand of bamboo charcoal you’re distributing.

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It’s not really anything special. Simply put, I was at the right place at the right time. While on contract shooting a publicity video for Yucabam, I was asked if I would be interested in being a provider/distributor of the product here in Yucatan. I thought about it and it seemed to be a good idea. The product is quite good, and the angle behind it (eco-friendly, from a renewable resource) was in line with my business values and ethics. Since I began selling it to the community, I am very pleased at the reaction it has caused. People see the benefit and many uses of it and continue to come back for more. We’ve developed a great loyal following here.

Photo: Yucabam
Photo: Yucabam

We’ve been using bamboo charcoal to purify the air, too. Does your bamboo do that?
One of the great benefits of the Bamboo plant is that it has many uses, and one of those is air purification. Many of our customers are using the bamboo charcoal in their homes to purify the air and also control humidity and odors.  Most people are familiar with the granular salt that you can buy at Costco for humidity control (which dissolves into water over the period of a month or so). Bamboo charcoal lasts up to two years as an air purification/odor control solution. Every two months or so, you place the bamboo charcoal into the sun to “recharge” it and dry it, then return it to the area that you are using it to control. Simple.

You run a video production company. Now this. You’re obviously entrepreneurial. Any other business ventures in your future?

After being in the media broadcasting industry for the past 17 years (not including the 12 years spent in ACTRA as a professional actor), I have always kept my eyes open to see what’s going on around me, or where the next project may be. When something that I am interested in and passionate about comes my way, I don’t generally let it fall by the wayside.

You and Robert Abuda were introduced to a lot of the world when you appeared on House Hunters International about four years ago, and then again this year on House Hunters International: Where Are They Now? So a lot of us feel like we know a thing or two about you. Can you tell us something about yourself that we don’t know?

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With most of our recent lives being in the public eye since moving to Merida, and being on HHI and all their followup episodes, you’re right in saying that people may feel that they know us. We have, however, been able to maintain a sense of privacy in our lives. If there is one thing that I could share with the public about me that they may not know, it would be that I used to be a very good curler. When I was in high school, I participated in the winter sport of curling. I eventually was the “Skip” (the captain) of my  team. We made it to the semi-finals, but usually got beat out by one of the other teams who were stacked with “ringers” from the Provincial Team. All the same, I really enjoyed playing it. It is very much a strategy game … like chess.

A view from the upstairs terrace at Erich and Rob's modern Centro home.
A view from the upstairs terrace at Erich and Rob’s modern Centro home.

On Where Are They Now?, viewers learned that you build a new, more modern house in the Centro, with some stunning Henry Ponce lines. Why did you go modern?

When we first moved to Merida, our house was obviously “colonial inspired.” Most people when they move from North America to Merida, they see themselves living a romantic dream in a house with high ceilings and columns, beautiful pasta tile floors and talavera throughout.  Yes, we enjoyed that style of living, but after chasing each other throughout the house trying to find which room the other was in, we realized that for our lifestyle we needed something “more us.” Modern lines and open concept living has always appealed to us, and when we found the current house we own, we were able to renovate it to our wants and needs. As we both are busy entrepreneurs, we built a place with low maintenance gardens, and clean lines throughout. In some spots we have kept “tradition” by adding details like wooden beams in the 30-foot skylight well, and maintained one perimeter wall with the classic mampostería (field stone) look.

So you and Rob have been in Merida quite a few years now. What advice do you have for newcomers, beside “use bamboo charcoal”?

I offer three pieces of advice to newbies who are deciding or have decided to check out Merida…

1. Get your hair done at Robert Abuda Salon (best place to know what’s happening in town, and to catch up on local life).

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2. Buy Bamboo Charcoal from me (it’s healthier and not made with petroleum products, and supports the local economy).

3. RENT BEFORE YOU BUY!!! Some people that come here, after six months, may realize that they don’t like it, and want to move elsewhere. If you come and buy a house during that time and realize that Merida is not for you, it can be a difficult process to sell and move on. Renting allows you to try before you buy.

Photos: Bulldog Group Productions, Yucabam

This article was originally published in November 2014.

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