Stéphan Genest was tailgating in Los Angeles 15 years ago when he had an idea that would bring him to the NFL Super Bowl party over a decade later.
It was the ballbecue.
The Quebecer, from Magog in the Eastern Townships, was at the University of California in Los Angeles in 2009 when he looked around and thought something was missing.
He questioned why everyone in the parking lot was using cheap barbecues to cook for armies of sports fans.
"I said, 'Oh my God, why don't [they] have a barbecue shaped like a football?'" said Genest.
"We need a real barbecue for those kinds of parties."
Several drawings and five prototypes later, that idea had Genest and his daughter, Abygael Genest, packing their bags to show off their new creation at Super Bowl XLVIII in Las Vegas.
Stéphan Genest says the ballbecue was designed to optimize the tailgaiting experience but can also be used at home. (Submitted by Stéphan Genest)
The duo, alongside Stéphan's investor from North Carolina, Ramesh Sunar, will be at a VIP party hosted by the Cirque du Soleil helping cook for more than 1,000 people, Wednesday through to Sunday, across the street from Allegiant Stadium.
"I think it should create maybe a big buzz around the ballbecue," said Genest. "That's our target."
Genest, who has been in the restaurant and nightclub business for over 36 years, says he used some of his contacts to score an invite to the NFL party that will host both celebrities and players.
"That's crazy. I never thought I would be there one day," said Abygael.
"He figured a way that combines the barbecue and the football aspect together … That brings a better experience."
Getting into the tailgate market as Quebecers
Equipped with a truck horn and LED lights, the $1,500 barbecue on wheels features a cast-iron griddle shaped like the field — complete with field goal posts designed to rest a spatula between burger flips.
Working communications for the company for the past couple of years, Abygael says the ballbecue has seen a spike in interest — having close to 200 pre-orders online.
"I was really impressed about his idea, but I was a little bit scared about how we're going to make it," said Abygael.
"The biggest challenge was to figure out how to put [it] on the market and because we are French-Canadian … We can't imagine how big sports is in the United States."
Although tailgating isn't non-existent in Quebec, Stéphan says the market is much smaller compared to the U.S.
Abygael Genest, Stéphan Genest and Ramesh Sunar pictured with the ballbecue. The three will be showcasing the design at the Super Bowl party in Vegas this week. (Submitted by Stéphan Genest)
"It's not in our blood, you know, the only place they have a huge tailgate party is Quebec City with the Université Laval. There are 20,000 to 25,000 people every game," said Stéphan.
"But we have a lot of football fans, we can use the ballbecue just like a regular barbecue on your patio."
Genest figures it's going to cost about $5 million to get his grill project off the ground.
In talks with the NFL and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) teams, he says licensing fees will cost him 15 per cent of ballbecue sales and around $200,000 upfront.
He says he stumbled into Sunar, who became his partner and investor — allowing him to continue on with the project.
Besides finding the right market for his creation, Genest says he also struggled to bring his design to life.
"It's not easy to find a way to create this form," said Genest, who says it took a lot of research to find a company to make the shell of the ballbecue.
Finally, he says he found Verbom, a company located in Sherbrooke, Que., just 10 minutes from his own shop.
He says last year it took four months to build the first grill by hand.
Genest says he already has a deal with Costco in Canada to get his ballbecues out on shelves next year — just in time for the next Super Bowl.
"It's a unique product. We are the only one in the world at this," said Genest.
"Since the beginning, I knew it would be a success."