A layoff and a knack for making things pushed Eric Buss into the sticky, opaque world of toothpaste.

The story of the La Mirada kid who grew up to be a Temecula manufacturer selling minty paste to the masses is a head-spinning tale of ingenuity and good old-fashioned serendipity.

His story goes something like this: Thirty-something gets fired from Ingram Micro’s sales department, his job of eight years outsourced to the Philippines. In his downtime, an Internet search for a backyard fountain turns into a DIY adventure, and suddenly the jobless man is making and selling water fountains built in his garage. Then Cheesecake Factory’s designers call and ask, ‘Hey, can you build us fountains for our restaurants, only make them 15-feet wide instead of 2?’

The jobless man turned small business owner leases a 2,000-square-foot workshop and makes fountains for 11 years until the welding fumes and cross-country installations are just too much. A random conversation with himself about the incomprehensible contents of toothpaste leads to a three-year odyssey to create a product people will buy “over and over and over again.”