Bill Cooke, MD of Cinders Barbecues, is preparing to ride his classic motorcycle off into the sunset, with his 72nd birthday in November 2021 being the push he needed to start focusing more on gear changes than grills.
Cooke is retiring after 37 years of equipping venues such as breweries, battalions and beach resorts with his British gas barbecue.
The Cinders ‘Classic’ barbecue, which he created in 1984, has achieved global sales, including penetrating the USA market and currently supplying the largest rental companies in France and the Netherlands.
Surrey-born Cooke originally took up the challenge posed by his former employer, British Gas, to create a barbecue for use at company charity events. He then set aside the funds to patent and then manufacture his prototype.
The Cinders barbecue soon caught the attention of Calor Gas, which took on Bill’s creation to hire out from every Calor Centre in the country, as well as showcasing it on every Calor Gas catering exhibition stand and as principal exhibit at all major agricultural shows. For 5 years, until Calor’s rental policy changed, the Cinders barbecue enjoyed a blue-chip showcase.
In 1992, Cinders invested in larger premises to cope with demand. Its 15,000ft2 factory, in High Bentham, on the Lancashire and Yorkshire border, is a place Cooke will greatly miss. It retains an artisan manufacturing feel and focuses on product rather than promotion, with no sales department and just a small team of dedicated, largely manufacturing specialists.
By 2000, its European and American export trade saw Cinders barbecues also flying out to locations as remote as Tahiti and the Maldives. Cooke’s original ‘Classic’ design was still at the heart of all production, just slightly tweaked and refined.
During his career, Cooke was elected as technical officer to the Gas Barbecue Association, formed to drive CE marking, before sitting on the BSI committee to determine the BS and CE gas barbecue standards. Much more committee work followed and he recently contributed to the industry’s UKLPG code of practice, determining the safe use of propane in trailers and at all catering events, with Cinders the only appliance manufacturer involved. He achieved a Utility Patent for an American-type gas regulator safety device, whilst in the US.
Recently, the Classic TG160 (twin grill) and the smaller Classic SG80 barbecues were joined in Cinders’ portfolio by the Festival range – a response to new regulations governing the use of propane in tents and marquees. With the boom in foodie events, the Festival barbecues have given Cinders a new option with which to tap into this important trade sector.
Similarly, Cooke’s devotion to new ideas and innovation enabled the Cinders brand to add a portable ‘StreetWok’ wok burner to its portfolio, enabling Asian cuisine to be cooked alfresco, often alongside a barbecue menu. Cinders claims the new product will release the potential for wok cooking outdoors, as an emerging future rival to the ubiquitous barbecue, with special appeal for vegetarians.
Cooke’s partner, Karen Swift, who is the company director for marketing and business development, hopes they can both enjoy more leisure time together soon, if the heritage brand can be passed into safe hands which will respect the loyalty of the Cinders team, through continued employment with this British manufacturer.
Cooke said: “I will be stepping down at a really exciting time, having seen a tremendous bounce-back to 90% of sales this year and with production already in progress to satisfy a 30% uplift for 2022. I hope to look back at all of our triumphs with fond memories, although there is so much more potential to our fantastic heritage brand and much more for it to achieve.
“Hopefully, Karen will be able to join me in retirement fairly quickly and we can enjoy reflecting on our huge barbecue adventure.”
After he takes the plunge into full retirement, Cooke will be roaring off on his motorcycle, exploring new routes, as well as practising his yachting skills on Ullswater, as he plans his annual challenge for the historic and prestigious Lord Birkett Trophy.