Grillworks was founded by Charles Eisendrath, a foreign correspondent for Time Magazine in the '60s and early '70s. Eisendrath's assignments required frequent international relocation. France, Turkey, Chile and Argentina were major stops along his career route before settling his family in Ann Arbor to run the University of Michigan's masters journalism program. Back in the states, he immediately longed for the open fire cooking he'd grown to love abroad. During academic summers he set about designing a dream grill with the help of a local metal shop. After several attempts, he settled on a shining, stainless steel, parrilla style grill with V-shaped Argentine grates and a front catch pan which he dubbed "The Grillery". Friends and family responded enthusiastically, many pleading for their own Grillery. One has to assume Eisendrath's friends were well connected because he was quickly summoned to New York to demonstrate his new cooker for renowned American chef and writer, James Beard. Beard immediately fell for The Grillery and refused to let Eisendrath leave with it. Shortly thereafter Grillworks was born, but Eisendrath always treated his grill business more as a hobby, and devoted the bulk of his energies to academia.
Now run by Charles' son, Ben, Grillworks has grown but remains a family owned business, still hand made in Michigan. We spoke at length with Ben Eisendrath who is understandably proud of his father's work. Production is typically a few hundred grills per year, Eisendrath is comfortable with that and has no plans for dramatic expansion. Even with limited production, Grillworks name gets around. A number of heavy hitters on the gourmet grill circuit love Grillworks. Steve Raichlen is a big fan. When asked what he likes about Grillworks and he stated, "The raisable and lowerable grates. The cool fly wheel. The ease of front loading and the stylish design of the grill". Without question certain models are striking to behold.
Grillworks offers several production models. Built-ins are often highly customized. All grills, production or custom, are made to order: they don't stock inventory. "People who are likely to be our customers have unique design ideas in their heads", says Eisendrath, "They're not interested in a big stainless steel box with a bunch of modular cabinets". Case in point: The Infierno, which represents a true collaboration between award winning chef, Dan Barber of Blue Hill at Stone Barns Restaurant in New York, and Grillworks.
Grillworks supports US Army Special Forces by shipping specially designed Forward Operating Base grills to units deployed in hot zones for our men and women in harms way. I asked how he became involved with the US military. Eisendrath replied one of the commanders contacted him, further supporting his observation that Grillworks is, "the most famous grill that nobody has".
For potential buyers, Grillworks states, "Our custom nature means that we welcome your ideas, so if it is within our power and our grilling system we'll build it. Just please don't ask us for a gas version." All models have at least 16 inches of vertical travel for the grates, many built-ins have more and can be tailored per customer specifications. They offer manual and electric rotisseries, a stainless steel fold-out side tray and covers, but no other outdoor kitchen items like cabinets and refrigerators. They also offer FDA approved, kiln-dried oak, cherry, pecan, hickory, mesquite, grape and apple wood packages.
Total Grillworks sales are about 75% residential and 25% commercial. Most are placed direct, but some models are available through Amazon, Williams and Sonoma, and Hammacher Schlemmer.