Three Questions With an Alum: Ben Eisendrath ’87
The slogan for Ben Eisendrath’s home and restaurant grill company, Grillworks, is “Argentine Inspired, American Made.” His elaborate live-fire grills, which are manufactured in northern Michigan and have been featured in Bon Appetit and the New York Times, form the centerpiece of restaurants by such A-list chefs as José Andrés, Dan Barber, and Danny Meyer. In a conversation with the alumni office, Ben shared more about his path since Greenhills, how changing the way we grill became his mission, and his stealth foodie forays around the world.
What do you remember most about your Greenhills experience?
I moved to Greenhills in the 10th grade, and really appreciated the more intimate size of the school and my class as a whole. I was a shy kid throughout high school and had a stutter, but I developed a really great circle of friends at Greenhills—a group that became even closer and more connected since the pandemic. Mr. Forstner [retired Greenhills English teacher, coach, and head of upper school], who served as my college advisor and a wonderful mentor, was also a giant force in my life at school.
How did you become interested in producing grills?
After experiencing the dot-com bubble firsthand, with the crumbling of AOL where I worked at the time, I couldn’t imagine jumping into another corporate job. I decided to pivot and expand on something that was already part of my family. Reviving my dad’s hobby of producing Argentinian-style backyard grills into something “real” was always in the back of my mind. But even though my dad’s grills had generated some serious recognition in the past, building this new version of the business was all about hustle—visiting with the food people, learning what illustrious chefs are looking for in their equipment, and designing these grills together. I should remind folks we still sell a range of backyard grills, though our largest commercial grills, some over 20 feet long, garner most of the attention.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Grillworks doesn’t have an office, which means I’m always and never working. I like talking about fire, so it doesn’t matter to me when that is. Sometimes I’m speaking with customers at 1 am. Often I’m traveling from my base in Washington, D.C., to restaurants in New York City or around the world to see how things are done elsewhere. My main job is to go see as much fire cooking as possible, and witness what chefs are doing with our equipment in their restaurants, which are effectively our showrooms. I also spend a lot of time on social media (basically trying to match the skills of the average 14-year-old), since the majority of our retail business comes from Instagram and the other platforms.
Seeing our grills in action with professional chefs is the best way for us to continue to innovate and respond to the needs of our customers. Sometimes I do this without announcing my visit, whether in Detroit or Tokyo, in order to experience how the grills are being used in real-world scenarios.
For more about Ben, check out his Twitter and Instagram (@GrillworksBen) or Grillworks.com.