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What’s an iconic product with a cult-like following that’s produced in Little Rock? That would be the PK Grill and Smoker. Facebook lists at least four groups dedicated to the grill, including PK Grill Fanatics, with more than 11,000 members.
The product that inspires such devotion is a rust-proof cast-aluminum charcoal grill with a 20-year warranty. The grill was created in 1952 by Hilton Meigs in Tyler, Texas, who sold his company to Lewis Hamlin in 1960. Hamlin relocated the operation to Little Rock, but after about 20 years, production of the grill ended.
That would have been that but for the intervention of Little Rock lawyer Paul James, who discovered one of the fondly remembered grills at a yard sale. With his sister, Martha James, the vice president of Portable Kitchens Inc., he restarted production of the grills and began selling them again in 1998. Brian Taylor, Scott Moody and Jeff Humiston, part of the executive team that started Allied Wireless in Little Rock in 2010, joined the PK Kitchens ownership group in 2014, bringing new energy to the company and relaunching the brand. Taylor is now the president and CEO of the company.
Heath Sorrells, general manager of Portable Kitchens, has been in the barbecue business for more than 12 years. Before coming to PK in 2017, he hadn’t had much experience with charcoal grills. But the PK Grill makes cooking with charcoal easy. “Once you get that dialed in, you really can’t go back to any other cooking method,” he said. “It’s the best grill you’ll ever buy.”
PK, which employs 12 in a 30,000-SF distribution center in southwest Little Rock, saw revenue increase by 91% between 2019 and 2021.
With every grill sold, the company makes a donation to the nonprofit No Kid Hungry, which works to end childhood hunger in the U.S.
“When you purchase a PK, you become part of our PK family,” Sorrells said in describing the company’s devotion to customer service. “We take pride in the materials we use to make the grills, and we also take pride in supporting our customer.”