Whether or not you can get a Grillstream barbecue on the back of a motorcycle is a moot point. But engineers Peter Neath and Ian Worton have been solving design problems all their lives, so don’t bet against the Brummie Bikers getting on the road in their Triumphs.
The Hairy Bikers don’t need to worry about a challenge to their culinary brand just yet. However, the story of these two car engineers from Sutton Coldfield, near Birmingham, who turned their skills to the outdoor cooking world, is a compelling one, creating the unique Grillstream barbecue, which is licensed in the UK through Hertfordshire-based LeisureGrow.
Neath and Worton have been great friends since school and, true to their West Midlands heritage, both headed into the automotive industry.
Worton started as an apprentice at
Land Rover before setting up his own engineering maintenance supply business. Neath’s car journey began at British Leyland and took him through to Aston Martin.
Cars were clearly a passion, but there was an entrepreneurial urge to invent something new.
Both Neath and Worton love a barbecue and wondered if their automotive skills could be directed at the primitive
grills of the time, raising the outdoor cooking game.
It was the fat and the flare ups that intrigued their inquiring engineering minds; the lack of control that served up the cliched ‘burnt on the outside, raw on the inside’ sausage.
They chatted and tweaked prototypes, even donning welding masks to see through the flames and the heat into the guts of the fire to watch the path of the fat.
How could they stop the fat and the oil dripping onto the heat source? What and why was its direction of travel and how could it be caught and corralled?
The result was an open bar grill system – a result born of hard work and ingenuity, as the two engineers bounced ideas off each other.
“You can’t change the fact that a barbecue needs heat; you can’t change the fact that the food drips oil. So, you focus on the management,” says Neath.
The next challenge was a patent, searching the archives to see whether such a method existed.
“There were plenty of attempts out there and different systems, but nothing like what we’d done. We’d cracked it.”
Well sort of. In 2004 they had their patent granted, but how to turn it into a business. After a few false starts, eventually along came BBC’s Dragon’s Den in 2009 – a defining moment for Grillstream, but not in the way you’d expect, for they didn’t win any investment from the fire-breathing dragons, although Theo Paphitis, a big BBQ enthusiast steeped in Cypriot live fire cooking culture, came close.
The problem was they were not allowed to bring a barbecue into the den, yet alone fire one up. So they brought on a small model design to illustrate the engineering and the controlled path of the fat – oh and a plastic sausage.
“The turning point was when Deborah Meaden put the grill on her lap and said: ‘if you stain my dress you pay for it.’ We didn’t,” says Worton.
They’d proved their prowess as engineers, but not retailers and, unable to convince them of their route to market, failed to land a Dragon. But the day
after the episode the phone rang off the hook with offers and eventually the pair met Richard Grimmer, chairman of LeisureGrow. A licensing deal was done in 2010, with all sides delighted with a flourishing partnership at the cutting edge of the UK barbecue scene. Grillstream is also licensed in Canada, the United States and Israel.
“Theo came down to the farm here at LeisureGrow for a follow up chat. We had a barbecue on the Grillstream and he was suitably impressed,” says Neath.
“Grillstream is the best-selling barbecue at Theo’s Robert Dyas stores, so I guess he invested in the end!”
The LeisureGrow farm is in the Hertfordshire village of Hinxworth, home to a portfolio of brands including LG Outdoor, NOMA lighting and Petface.
Neath and Worton are grill masters backstage under the bonnet, but neither would profess to be king of the barbecue when it comes to cooking.
Neath remembers when his children were in primary school being asked if, given his barbecue credentials, he could cook the burgers and sausages for the school fete.
“I had the six-burner with the glass window and fed 200 people with great, properly cooked food.”
The Grillstream pair, developing ideas and innovations all the time down at the LeisureGrow farm, are content, but forever inquisitive.
“We do tend, as engineers, to look at something and think that could be better. An idea is all very well, but there is a lot of hard work to bring it to fruition,” says Worton.
That tees up SauceStream, the pair’s latest invention, nicely. Launched last year, SauceStream is an eco-friendly, plastic-free squeezer top that allows you to squeeze the glass bottles of sauces. No more banging the glass bottom and either getting nothing, or everything, on your plate.
They know they can’t solve the problem of plastic but are doing their bit and with barbecues come sauces. Again, they designed and tweaked and refined. SauceStream, made from silicon, is recyclable and bio-degradable.
Away from fire and food, Neath loves classic cars. Actually he doesn’t just love them, he owns and renovates them.
“I started out as a mechanic and my nickname was Roadside Pete. I used to service friends’ cars on the side to earn a few quid to take Ian for a beer!”
Neath then recounts the poignant story of a young pilot killed aged 22 in World War II. A local church clearance of furniture unearthed a brass plate in memory of the airman. Neath searched his name and found no more detail, so decided to honour this young life by restoring a 1938 Austin 10 RAF staff car.
“The number on the car is not a vehicle number, but his RAF tag number,” says Neath, who will take the car to shows and war re-enactments to raise money for charity.
Back to those Triumph motorcycles. “We both ride motorbikes and have this vision of touring the countryside talking about Grillstream barbecues and SauceStream.”
They laugh, but I hesitate to join in. They’ve proved enough people wrong already and no doubt a patent on a sidecar barbecue is pending.
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