Waiting to be discovered

EE grad takes Dakota Grills to next level


With inspiration from his mother, Kathy, and support from his father, Wally, Adam Sorenson has grown his company, Dakota Grills, to the point where it’s pretty much busting out of its current seams eight miles north of Lake Preston.

“I’ve gradually taken over my dad’s farm,” Sorenson says, the sweep of his arm taking in several large machine sheds where Dakota Grills are made by one full-time and two part-time employees.

“The first five years, it’s a matter of perfecting the product,” he says. “There are always quirks, bugs, issues to solve, especially when you’re introducing a brand-new product.

“The last two to three years has been rock solid. We’re still tweaking, but there aren’t really any bugs. We’re to the point now where we could take it national and really grow it. That’s one possible scenario and that’s where I’d like to go with it if I can figure out how. That may require investors. Another scenario is, a big company buys it.

“If we go big, we couldn’t continue to build the grills here. It’s a question of when we’re going to take it to that level. When and how and where.”

So far, with a little help early on with marketing research from the Enterprise Institute, Sorenson has managed to navigate the unpredictable seas of entrepreneurship quite well.

Saving supper

Creating a company, however, was not part of the original plan. At first, it was simply a matter of father and son —both with electrical engineering degrees from State—putting their heads together in an effort to help Mom, a State English grad, save supper.

“We never planned to sell the grills. We made them for our own use. Our mother actually perfected our grilling technique,” Sorenson laughs. “She would put something on the gas grill, fully intending to be back in an hour. Then she’d go check cattle and, more often than not, didn’t get back in time and we ended up eating charcoal or shoe leather.

“That convinced us to put our engineering backgrounds to work and design something that would work better. We had to design a grill that would work around our schedule, where you could go ahead and walk away. That’s not something you want to do with most grills.”

The Sorensons built their first grill—a gas model—in 1997.

“That was before we realized the importance of air flow,” Sorenson says. “The amount of air flow, as it relates to grilling, determines whether your meat is dried out or super juicy.

“Mom, overhearing the conversation Dad and I were having, gets the brilliant idea to set the air flow down even more. It was starved for oxygen. When she opened the lid, it singed her eyebrows.

“We went electric in 2003; it’s safe and easy to use.”

Smokeless, economical

Dakota Grills—all five models—can be programmed to start cooking at any given time. They’re so well insulated and cook so evenly, “We’re the only ones with the no-flip option, which is very handy if you’re not going to be around,” Sorenson says.

A meat probe tells the grill when to quit cooking and switch to warm mode, holding the meat juicy and ready to eat for hours.

Because all grease collects into a jar, it’s smokeless grilling that can be done indoors. And it’s economical. To cook two huge sweet potatoes, one of his special stuffed onions, and a six-pound Adam’s Awesome Pork Loin costs only fourteen cents in electricity.

The price of a Dakota Grill is another story, reflecting not only its top-of-the-line quality and unique attributes, but one of the challenges a small, new company faces.

“This is a $1,500 grill,” Sorenson says. “Making them here on a start-up basis is costly. There’s no way we can compete in cost. We have to make a quality grill that will last thirty years. Then our higher cost makes sense.”

Dakota Grills are made of high quality stainless steel, which allows for personalized sand etching on its Signature model. They also offer the Built-in, which the Sorensons use daily in their own kitchen, and the Metro, designed for apartments or condos.

The very first Dakota Grill, the Stalwart, was “very sturdy and extremely well built, but not all that pretty,” Sorenson says. “We replaced it with the Stately.”

Coming up: The Roadrunner. “It makes a ‘beep-beep’ sound,” Sorenson smiles. “It’s to take camping, or tailgating, or to put on the kitchen table. We prototyped it last summer.”

The inventor

Whether designing his grills or naming them, Sorenson’s creative genius seems to run at a constant hum—and has for some time.

“I’ve always wanted to be an inventor, since I was that tall,” he laughs, gesturing knee-high. “I took things apart. If I put them back together and there were parts left over, that means I did a wonderful job.”

As a junior at Lake Preston High School, the straight-A student won third place and a $1,000 savings bond from the Duracell/National Science Teachers Association for a quiz bowl device he invented. As a senior, he created a sonar cane for blind people, which won first place at the 1998 Engineering Expo at SDSU.

At SDSU, Sorenson was a Briggs Scholar, a National Merit Scholar and the recipient of several other scholarships.

In 2002, after earning three degrees from State—in electrical engineering, computer science, and engineering physics—he worked for a start-up company in Arizona, improving an existing concept on hearing protective earphones.

But starting his own business, Sorenson says, is the hardest thing he’s ever done.

“It’s a complicated product, so engineering is involved,” he says. “It’s an expensive product, so marketing is involved. And the paperwork from patenting to taxes is crazy. And it’s the first time I ran a business, so there was a lot to learn.

“It’s not gotten any easier, but the challenges have changed. I feel we’re making more progress.

“Last year we sold 110 grills. This year, we hope to sell 200. If we hit 150, that may be more realistic, but if we sold 200, I’d be very happy.

“This is the first invention I’m really trying to take to the next level. Even though we have a superior product, it’s difficult to get established. We’re waiting to be discovered.”



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