The 'Grill Doctor' is in he makes house calls

June 30, 1995|By Shirley Leung | Shirley Leung,Sun Staff Writer

No sparks, no fire, no dinner.

That's what happened when Wendy Shreve punched the button on her 6-year-old Sunbeam gas grill.

She knew what to do. Called the grill doctor. He makes house calls.

Mark Wilson arrived lugging a shiny, red tool box. He took off the greasy grates and tinkered amid charred pieces of chicken and corn that didn't make it to the dinner table.

The diagnosis? A bum igniter.

In 20 minutes, he attached a new one, sucked up the ashes with a wet and dry vacuum cleaner and wrote up a $45 bill.

"Now it's beautiful again," beamed Ms. Shreve, as she watched flames dance in the grill on the deck of her Annapolis town home.

Mark Wilson, aka the Arundel Grill Doctor, drives to patios and porches to help people whose grills aren't grilling. He's finishing up his busiest week of the summer as people get ready for Fourth of July.

Bring a grill to his store in the Cape St. Claire Shopping Center and he'll diagnose it for free. Otherwise, a house call will cost you $25, parts and labor not included.

"We're not going to be open the Fourth," Mr. Wilson warned. "If you didn't get it fixed by now -- guess what?"

Local hardware store owners say they sell some basic parts, but people aren't buying.

"Most discard them and get another one," said Dave Clement, owner of Clement Hardware in Severna Park. "Why do people buy new cars? It's the same kind of thing."

The bulk of the 12.3 million grills Americans own are sturdy and require little maintenance. All it takes is replacing lava rocks, clearing spider webs from gas jets and scraping off crusty barbecue sauce, said Donna Myers, spokeswoman for the Barbecue Industry Association.

"I've never heard anyone making a living doing this," Ms. Myers said. "Most people buy parts and put it in themselves. It's pretty easy.

"That's a sign of the times -- do you want to cut your own lawn or hire someone to do it?" "He's really doing routine maintenance . . . it doesn't take a skilled technician."

Mr. Wilson doesn't claim to have any special skills, just lots of practice and patience.

"Nobody will come to your house and fix your grill," explained Mr. Wilson, 39, who spent 16 years in the propane business. "I saw there was a lot of gas grills out there, and no one was fixing them."

So about a year ago he quit his job at United Propane in Millersville and turned his forest green Plymouth Voyager into an office. During the summer, he and his business partner/wife, Vicky, fix, install and sell grills. During the winter, they sell gas fireplaces.

The Wilsons made enough money to open the store last month.

He stays in business because he believes a good grill lasts forever -- with a little help, of course.

"People who have good grills get them fixed," Mr. Wilson said. "If you put $100 to $200 into them, you'll get another five years."

His customers are often people who use their grills year-round and almost every night during the summer. They're willing to spend several hundred dollars for a grill and even more to make sure it works just right. But a lot of times they're people who don't want to tamper with gas.

"I was really getting frustrated because I was looking for someone to come out," said Tricia Williams of Severna Park, who scanned the Yellow Pages for someone to install her $830 Ducane gas grill. "I'm a firm believer that you don't mess around with natural gas. You get it done right."

It took Mr. Wilson 90 minutes to get Ms. Williams' grill -- complete with rotisserie and side cooker -- up and running.

"I like what I'm doing," he said. "You make people happy when you fix their grills."

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