Some outdoor cooks meticulously clean their grills after each use, scrubbing the grates, changing the grease pans and then covering the grill to protect it. Then there are the rest of us who, after gorging on burgers, hot dogs and beer, forget about the grill until the next time we fire it up. Those are the customers who have provided Kim and Randy Rousseau a burgeoning business. Four years ago, the couple started The Grill Cleaning Company in Bradenton, serving Sarasota and Manatee counties. Kim recently visited this writer’s home to examine his grill (more on that later) and talk about her business:
“After moving here from Detroit 10 years ago, we started a pressure-washing business. A customer asked me if I could clean the hood on her grill. I couldn’t do it with the pressure washer, but it led me to do some research. It turns out there is a market beyond what I ever imagined for cleaning and repairing grills. We’ve been working seven days a week for the past three years.
“Grills get away from us, like cleaning the garage. I’ve seen some bad grills. Rats, African tree frogs, geckos, cockroaches and all sorts of things live in people’s grills. That’s not the only problem: Food is acidic and it can damage the components.
“Our goal is to get the grill as close to new as possible. It’s a two-part process in which we take pieces back to the shop for a deeper cleaning. The average cost is $300 and it takes us between five and six hours of work. About 85 percent to 90 percent of our business is outdoor kitchens; we don’t service small cart grills because financially it does not make sense. We [also] show customers how to clean and maintain their grills. Some customers are scared of the gas tank. Some don’t even know they have a grease pan and what it does. We tell them never to use metal brushes because the bristles come off and stick to the grill, where they can get into the food and people can swallow them. Putty knifes are much better. Scrape the debris off the heat plates. It’s also critical to cover the grill, but only after it has cooled off.
“Some customers are better off buying a new [grill]. A 17-year-old grill may be worth spending the money to repair—they were built to last. One that’s two years old might not be. At the other extreme, I’ve come across grills that are so meticulously maintained [that] I’ve had to laugh and say, ‘Sir, you really don’t need my services.’
“We never dreamed this business would become what it has. We grossed $12,000 the first year, $105,000 the second year, $129,000 the third year, and we’re on track to bring in $180,000 to $190,000 this year. A former restaurant executive on Anna Maria Island pays us $2,400 a year to clean his grill every three months. For a lot of our clients, money is not the issue.
“Some people think they don’t need to clean their grills—just fire [them] up and that will burn off all the germs and waste. Or they’ll put foil over the cooking grates, which can melt the components. There’s such a lack of knowledge that we are adding a showroom to sell parts and offering classes on grill maintenance.”
Postscript: After the interview, Kim examined my Weber grill, which was less than five years old, but rusted and decayed, and would no longer start. “I don’t think this one is worth saving,” she said. “I’d rule it a premature death from owner’s neglect.”