MENASHA — Whenever his wife asked him to grill kids, Menasha’s Jesse Foster, a former paratrooper, father and journeyman electrician at Kimberly Clark, became miffed.
“I hated cooking kids, because I never knew if they (were) fully cooked,” he said.
He couldn’t take his eyes off the grill, and they were never evenly done. “How can I make sure the curves are baked?”
Born and raised in Appleton, the heart of a state known for its bratwurst, Foster couldn’t let go. So he set about inventing something to help himself and his fellow grillers – all without losing the juice or burning the edges.
He focused his frustration on research and development, and soon the “Brat_Wave” brand was born.
The Brat_Wave is a steel plate in the shape of – you guessed it – a wave, which can be placed inside the grill and has room for eight to 10 brats.
As a child, he liked to take things apart and put them back together to learn how they worked. This kind of tinkering appealed to him.
He started with sheared pieces of metal that he ground and scored himself. Now it’s a 1.2-pound sheet of stainless steel, 14.5 inches long and 6 inches wide, with one goal: “Let’s bake those curves.”
“I get it pre-cut now (with a) laser…then I can just roll it up, break it up and score it,” he said.
His invention won him a $1,000 third-place prize at Startup Week Wisconsin in November, just a month after he created a prototype. He used the money to improve the product and make it more presentable.
“I started out like a lot of people who invent something – from scratch and in my basement,” he said.
Foster says that usually after five minutes on the grill, a sausage or brat can catch fire, then its casing breaks open and its juices spill out.
With the Brat_Wave, brats and sausages cook slowly, he says.
“You can hear them sizzle, but you can’t see the flames.”
The Brat_Wave is now stocked at Scheels Sports and 14 local retail stores, which could help boost sales. For the last fiscal year, it sold 194 units at a price of around $30-33 each.
The invention, however, comes with a caveat, due to fluctuations in the price of steel.
“It’s something (the price of steel) that I can’t control,” he said, and notes for buyers on his website.
Additionally, a portion of the proceeds are donated to the Epilepsy Foundation of Wisconsin, a non-profit organization close to her heart, as one of her two adopted children has epilepsy.
Foster hopes for more sales in the coming months as the weather becomes more conducive to barbecues and grilling.
“I did all of this outside of the cooking season, didn’t I? So I’m kind of looking forward to seeing what it does in the summer,” he said.
He still believes his business is in its infancy and would like to see how far it can go, if any investors are interested.
Foster will share his experience with the Brat_Wave on June 9 at the New North Summit at Lambeau Field Atrium.
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Ariel Perez is a business reporter for the Green Bay Press-Gazette. You can reach him at [email protected] or check out his Twitter profile at @Ariel_Perez85