Photo by Kyle Kurlick
Blake Carson (second from left) serves sausages he grilled on his Brazilian-style rotisserie to employees of Sunshine Enterprise in Bartlett, who helped Carson bring his dream of creating the portable grill to fruition. Carson will launch his grill today at Hamilton's Fireplace, 4462 Summer.
Blake Carson discovered a Brazilian love in addition to soccer during a summer playing the game in South America in the 1990s.
It was backyard barbecue, cooked over charcoal on ubiquitous rotisserie grills.
Poor people hand-cranked rotisseries. The wealthy just flipped a switch.
"It's all about the grill," said Carson. "Pretty much 80 percent of the country had a backyard rotisserie."
An idea was born in a young soccer player who grew up idolizing the legendary Pelé, and Carson hasn't extinguished it yet.
At 28, he's CEO of a startup Memphis company selling portable, charcoal-fueled rotisserie grills: Carson Rotisseries.
"We're taking the rotisserie grill from the backyards of Brazil to the backyards and tailgates of America," he said.
Carson has been making the rounds of football tailgating venues, festivals and office lunches to demonstrate the ease and portability of his grills.
He'll show it off during a launch party from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at Hamilton's Fireplace, 4462 Summer, where it's on display.
The grill folds up in a suitcase that weighs 50-55 pounds, and comes with seven rotisserie slots, four sword-like skewers and a built-in, four-hour rechargeable battery. It can be set up or broken down in five minutes. Add-ons include extra skewers and a 16-hour battery.
It retails for $999, but during an introductory period, it's selling at a 40 percent discount, for $599. Sales are handled by a website, carsonrotisseries.com.
Carson earned a finance degree from University of Memphis and sold commercial insurance for Lipscomb and Pitts Insurance for a couple years. But he couldn't get the idea out of his mind and wanted to see if it would sell.
He struck out on his own 18 months ago. He and his wife, Allison, tweaked the design, and he joined forces with Sunshine Enterprises to have the grill manufactured at a factory in Nanjing, China.
Carson began marketing the grill through hands-on demonstrations and word-of-mouth. He put in an order for the factory to make 1,000 units, and last week, two weeks after the first batch arrived, he had sold 60.
He has set up at events like the Memphis in May barbecue contest, Cooper-Young Festival and the Tiger Lane tailgating area outside Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. He takes the grill to business offices to cook for employees at lunchtime.
"The best way to sell it is to show people how to do it," Carson said.
Outside Sunshine Enterprises off Whitten Road last week, he cooked for Sunshine COO John Chen and controller Mark Salvatore and Heli Americas president and CEO Bruce Pelynio.
Skewers were loaded with pork tenderloin, chicken breast, chicken wings, sausage, top sirloin, a whole pineapple and vegetables. There was no marinating, just seasoning with Italian dressing, kosher salt and parmesan cheese.
Carson fired up the charcoal, and an hour later, his audience had pronounced everything succulent and delicious.
"It's handy," said Pelynio. "It gives a new dimension to the usual burgers and steaks on the grill. I like just the convenience of it. It's a cool idea."
Salvatore added, "It's a different type of cuisine than Memphis is used to seeing."
-- Wayne Risher: 529-2874
Brazilian-style, charcoal-fueled, portable rotisserie grill
Retails for $999, but priced at $599 during promotional phase
Designed by Memphis-based Carson Rotisseries and built by Sunshine Enterprises vendor in Nanjing, China
Launch party scheduled for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. today at Hamilton's Fireplace, 4462 Summer
Details on the Web at carsonrotisseries.com