Detroit's Grill King
Reported by Erik Smith
Web produced by Rachel L. Miller

One of the Grill King's barrel barbecue grills.

Since 1983, a little used alley south of 8 Mile Road has been the world headquarters of the Robert Felton Institute of Grillology.

"Just like Versace was to clothes, that's what I am to grills," Robert says.

From his humble shop, in which he can't park his car anymore, has come a steady stream of 55-gallon drum barbecue grills.

As you can imagine, when summer is on the calendar page, Robert's in overdrive. Actually, the fact is Robert's always in overdrive.

He makes his grills from heavy 16-gauge oil barrels and he says his favorite thing to cook on his grills are T-bone steaks. To his neighbors, friends and barbecue fans everywhere, Robert is known as Detroit's Grill King. He even has red and white lawn signs that stake his claim to that title -- they're on lawns all over town.

As you might guess, it's basically a mom-and-pop operation. Robert designs and welds. His wife polishes and paints, and the kids, they stay the heck out of the way because Robert's always on the move.

In his 15 years in the backyard barbecue business, the Detroit Grill King has had some ups and downs, but things are heating up right now. He's going to move out of the garage and into an old factory warehouse soon. He'll be adding some employees and streamlining the assembly process.

Robert says he had a dream to own his own business.

Robert Felton, the Detroit Grill King.

"I just said I didn't want to work for others," he says. "I had a dream. One of my dreams is a manufacturing facility. I want to see jobs."

Robert hopes to crank out a thousand grills this year. He's already sold them from West Bloomfield to Belleville, but he thinks he hasn't really begun to roll his barrels into the big backyard barbecue market in the Detroit area.

"When I sell a barrel, I have to make sure it's right," he says. "That customer, when it's sitting in their yard, it's representing me.

"It's different when you build something just to build it and you build it from your heart. I try to build from my heart."

The Grill King says it should never take more than eight minutes to cook up a perfect steak on his soon-to-be patented barbecue.

He's thinking about a cookbook now from the Grillology Institute and then there's his special steak sauce that could be marketed along with the cookbooks and the barbecue barrels. Then maybe a line of utensils and accessories.

And Robert's business now has a website. Click here to check it out.

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