Cinders Barbecues innovator calls it a day at 72

Bill Cooke, founder 2

One of the UK outdoor catering market’s most influential business figures is preparing to ride his classic motorcycle off into the sunset, with his 72nd birthday in November 2021 being the push he needs to start focusing more on gear changes than grills. 

Bill Cooke, managing director of Cinders Barbecues, has announced his forthcoming retirement, after 37 years of equipping breweries, battalions, beach resorts and more with the company’s British gas barbecues.

The Cinders ‘Classic’ barbecue, which Mr Cooke created in 1984, has gone global over the years, with the company supplying customers in the USA as well as rental firms in France and the Netherlands.

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Mr Cooke took up the challenge posed by his former employer, British Gas, to create a barbecue for use at company charity events.

His prototype was way ahead of anything else and he set aside the funds to patent and then manufacture it.

The Cinders barbecue soon caught the attention of Calor Gas, who took on his 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. That remained the case for five years until Calor’s rental policy changed.

In 1992, Cinders invested in larger premises, to cope with demand, and today boasts a 15,000-square-feet factory on the Lancashire and Yorkshire border. 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, a vibrant European and American export trade saw Cinders barbecues also flying out to locations as remote as Tahiti and the Maldives. Mr Cooke’s original ‘Classic’ design was still at the heart of all production, just slightly tweaked and refined given the already successful design.

As professional chefs adopted it as the barbecue of choice, due to its easy to clean, use and store nature and superior performance, Mr Cooke’s industry standing grew.

He was elected 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.

Further 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, while 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.

Mr Cooke’s devotion to new ideas and innovation armed the Cinders brand with a powerful and portable ‘StreetWok’ wok burner, enabling Asian cuisine to be cooked alfresco, often alongside a barbecue menu.

His partner, Karen Swift, who is the company director or 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.

Mr 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, Bill 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.

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Tags : Cinders Barbecues
Andrew Seymour

The author Andrew Seymour

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