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Grate Grills & More turning into an outdoor cooking destination

Grate Grills & More is growing in popularity with residents and visitors to the Coast. The store’s motto is “Isn’t life grate?” and owners Mike and George Rogers want their store to grow even more.

“We’ve made ourselves into a destination,” George said. “People come here to gamble or do other things and come by our store.”

The store, located on Pass Road at the site of the former Hooper Sound, is a treasure trove of grills, equipment, rubs, sauces, flavored wood chips and every kind of accessory imaginable for cooking outside. The large building also houses Grate Home & Hearth, Grate Gourmet Shoppe and the Grate Deli & Grille. In these shops, everything from fireplace inserts to chocolate-covered sunflower seeds to gift items and hot Panini sandwiches can be purchased.

That’s a far cry from the beginning of the business, which opened in December 2002 in Biloxi with 2,000 square feet of space. At that time, George, an Air Force retiree, was the sole owner and his brother, Mike, worked as a physical therapist but sometimes filled in at the store. The brothers agree it was on a much smaller scale and struggling.

The Biloxi building that housed the business was badly damaged and the building where Mike worked was destroyed when Hurricane Katrina came ashore in 2005. But the killer storm didn’t keep the Rogers brothers down long, and in November 2005 they moved into their present, much larger space. It started with Grate Grills & More, and as more inventory was added, the other shops within the building opened.

“We wanted to open again soon after the storm. Mike had a vision and saw the potential,” George said. “This was one of the few buildings available. We moved overnight, literally in bags, a truck and shopping carts.”

Mike felt the larger space was justified. “Every time I was there, customers were coming back. It seemed if they came once, they came back,” he said. “The key to success is repeat business, and we just needed to let more people know about it.”

A lot of customers come in to ask about cooking. “They want to talk to people who know how to cook, and we know how to cook,” Mike said. “Our mother taught us, and we’ve been grilling for years. We know quality and want value.”

They get questions about rubs and seasonings for meat, how long to cook certain cuts and recommendations about equipment. While outdoor cooking has long been the domain of men, the Rogers brothers say many women are taking it up, too.

“A guy called today and wanted to know why his brisket was not getting tender,” George said. “You can have $70 or $80 invested in a piece of meat and you don’t want to waste it.”

He tries to explain to customers that a meat thermometer can be their best friend. The brothers smile at some of the grilling stories they hear, admitting that men love cooking over an open fire — the danger of it, as comedian Jeff Foxworthy claims. Some of the store’s customers cook on the professional barbecue circuit.

“We’ve been urged to put together a cookbook, and we’re thinking about it,” George said. “We may add recipes to our Web site.”

One of their hottest selling items is the Big Green Egg, a ceramic smoker and grill based on an ancient Eastern clay smoker. It’s been around since 1974 and can withstand temperature up to 2,000 degrees.

Their biggest selling wood is pecan, but Grate Grills & More carries many more varieties. They also assemble “backyard baskets” for Boss’ Day, Father’s Day and other occasions.

George and Mike are pleased with the business’ rapid growth. However, George said, “I almost had a panic attack when Mike came in with the idea for a deli.”

The deli opened in January of this year with a limited menu that has since broadened. They say the deli may be the only commercial restaurant using a Big Green Egg. Special vents were added for the grill.

“The deli is doing very well,” George said. “We say it has five-star flavor at a two-star price.”

The brothers go onsite and cook for special events, fundraisers, festivals and church events. They have loaner grills when they can’t be present. Additionally, Grate Deli and Grille will soon begin catering.

“Service and keeping customers happy is very important to us,” George said. “We do everything we can for our customers. We’ll take deliveries out if it’s reasonable.”

They’ll also go out and repair the grills they sell, something they say consumers are not likely to encounter at the big box stores. They believe in supporting locally-owned businesses and buying American-made products as much as possible.

Natives of western New York State, the Rogers brothers, including Dan who is not involved with the business, migrated to Mississippi at different times. All love Southern life and are here to stay.

“You can’t do much grilling in five feet of snow,” George said. “Being Yankees, we didn’t know much about grilling, but we learned from some Cajun neighbors after we moved down here. That planted the seed for the business.”

Looking to the future, George and Mike want the business to continue to grow. They’ve even had inquiries about franchising Grate Grills & More.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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