First, Don Godke’s Downdraft is not a WE, US or an OUR
I am my only employee
I started in about mid-2013. My brother-in-law started his Green Mountain Grills (GMG) Dealership and still has it today. He knew I was interested and included me in his business to help him with Sales, Service, and Support.
He dropped off a Green Mountain Grills Daniel Boone Black Lid and at that time was Pre-WiFi. He said learn it.
I cooked and cooked and cooked on it, but couldn’t get the right level of smoke I had in my other smoker. I started researching and found a gentleman that had created a “downdraft” for himself. He presented it to Green Mountain Grills Owner and Founder. He responded that there are many variables in smokers, plus at that time the most popular grill was the Daniel Boone. He wanted to keep the price at what it was then. The “downdraft” didn’t go anywhere. This was approximately 1999.
I contacted this gentleman to see where the downdraft was then and if he minded that I try to produce it. He replied in kind and responded to try.
After about 4 attempts to re-create what he had sketched up, I tried making one with a different design approach. I also took into consideration the list of variables that the Founder of GMG had expressed needed to be considered. I evaluated the parameters, contacted GMG for further information on some of the parameters; Combustion Fan Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM), Hopper Fan CFM, Chimney Pipe draw or draft requirements and more. Some of the parameters I worked through being a Mechanical Engineer was my college background at MIT.
More design work and testing and 4 more design changes, I felt I had much better smoke quantity and flavor.
I made a good one for myself and then one for my brother-in-law. He put it on his demo grill at his business. Customers asked what it was and when they bought a grill, wanted one on their purchased grill.
Well, it snowballed. I was buying 24” x 48” Cold Rolled Steel at the big box store and cutting the downdrafts out by hand snips in my basement. I was buying Stainless Steel Metric Hex Head Capscrews, Metric Stainless-Steel Washers, Metric Stainless-Steel Lock Nuts, and Metric Stainless-Steel Nuts at the big box hardware stores. I was always buying up their stock in the local Quad City stores. They weren’t cheap.
I was creating them in the basement of our condominium and in the 1 car unattached garage. My wife couldn’t park her car in the garage, but only once in the 2-3 years I was building these. I was cutting the steel by tin snips, bending the metal on a 24” mini brake in the laundry room in the basement. Drilling the holes for the Stainless-Steel Pop Rivets. I would then take the downdrafts to the garage to paint them, in all seasons, and it gets cold in Iowa, in an un-attached garage and hot in the summers. Then after the paint dried under high intensity heat lamps, I would carry them to the basement to assemble and package. I soon purchased a much larger 48” brake.
I found a 1 man job shop 90-minutes from home that does CNC Plasma cutting. I contracted with him and he was fantastic to work with, fast and inexpensive, but 90-minutes one way and winter will be around the corner soon. That’s when a friend of mine suggested a larger job shop with CNC Laser cutters, and big ones. I asked for a quote and was surprised at the quality. The price was a bit higher, but less finish grinding for me and no water table to start rusting the steel.
Knowing we needed more space anyway, we bought a house with a 3-car garage and unfinished basement. I built a paint booth for painting the downdrafts.
About a 9-months later I switched to A304 Stainless Steel. No more painting
But they just couldn’t keep up with the quantity demands.
Enter a much large manufacturing shop with much larger CNC Laser machines that works 3 shifts and the lead time is greatly reduced. But there is so much manual labor involved.
Soon I purchased an even larger Dual Finger Brake Press with air assist and micrometer settings, but it weighs close to 1 Ton. It wasn’t going to the climate controlled basement.
I spot weld with 4 spot welders, as one heats up, I swap out for another. I grind the surface flat to set against the wall of the smoker and check flatness with a back light on a surface table, on each downdraft. I also finish grind any sharp edges, as best I can. I clean then of any manufacturing oils and grindings.
Then carry stacks of 25 to the basement for assembly and packaging. I try to work every Saturday and Sunday which are my most production days. I miss family functions and functions with friends.
I purchase the different capscrews, washers, spacers, and now KEPS brand toothed locking nuts, all Stainless Steel AND in mass quantities to help reduce costs. I stock around $20,000 worth at all times to keep up with demand.
The bolt sets that I package with the downdrafts, don’t assemble themselves. I sit at nights in the basement assembling the bolt sets.
I print the Instruction Sheets that I put with each downdraft in the basement on a higher production color printer. Instruction Sheets that few read, by the questions they ask of me after receiving their downdraft(s). “ Men don’t need to read no instructions “ LOL
I contract with a backend website company that takes the Credit Card and PayPal payments. If I were to accept credit card information personally, I would be required to be Personal Credit Information (PCI) Complaint. They also collect the data which is how I ship by. I manage the website, which was created initially by a talented young man who wanted to order a downdraft, but could find my website…. cause a “ Painters house is never painted “, I didn’t have the free tie to create one…. It’s what he does for a living. Managing the website and orders is a nightly job.
I forgot to mention, I have a full-time job in Sales in Information Technology. So, the Downdraft business is done in my free time, which is getting less and less.
So here I am pouring my heart out to you, letting you know my name is my logo, is my patent and my name is on every downdraft which is why I am so passionate about my work.
Lastly, but most importantly, I would like to say a huge Thank You to my wife, Shelli, who is sooooooo understanding about my downdraft work. She sometimes misses outings with her friends and our families, to be with me as I am in the basement working on downdrafts. I love her so much for her understanding.
All prices are in USD.