Get a grip - Family markets device

November 11, 2007|By ARNOLD S. PLATOU

There has to be a better way, thought Roy Romsburg, as he gingerly replaced hot pans of food on the buffet line at Western Sizzlin Steakhouse near Hagerstown.

"I would always use a rag to pull the steam table pans out of the hot wells and, as I'm doing this in front of customers I'm thinking, 'I can't believe I'm putting this rag near food," Romsburg recalled.

"...You know what people do with rags!'"

And so, about three years ago, came the spark of an idea.

Romsburg, now 33, told his brother, Paul Romsburg Jr., 36, and their father, Paul Sr., 61, - all owners of the local Sizzlin franchise - that there had to be a product somewhere that would allow them to safely and sanitarily remove and replace food pans.

"So we looked and we looked and we looked," the youngest Romsburg said. "And we couldn't find anything. So, we decided to invent something."


Thus was born "HowiGripp," the "ultimate pan movement tool," according to its Web site at

The 8-inch-long stainless steel device is similar to a pair of pliers, with special jaws to lift up hot food serving pans and pull them out, said Paul Romsburg Jr. It is made to use in restaurants and other commecial food settings, although it can be used to take hot baking sheets out of ovens in the home, too, he said.

He said the family had some crude prototypes made at a local sheet metal shop and took them to six engineering companies. The end product is "lightweight and eye-appealing and very functional," he said.

And, it's been endorsed by the National Sanitary Foundation, an organization that evaluates food service products and makes sure they're able to be cleaned easily, and such, Roy Romsburg said.

The name, HowiGripp, was their mother's idea, picking up on the name "Howie" of the restaurant's carpenter-fixit employee as well as being descriptive of the product's actual use, he said. The double "p" in the name "is just kind of a play on words," he said.

In all, the family has spent more than $100,000 developing the product, Paul Romsburg Jr. said. Expenses have included making the prototypes, making the die that stamps out the gripper, and getting the trademarks and patents, he said.

A metal fabrication company in Pennsylvania has been hired to make the devices.

Thus far, more than 2,000 of them have been sold to distributors as far away as Holland, Australia and Japan, the brothers said. Daydots, a food safety company based in Texas, has the device listed in its catalog and other catalog companies are interested, Roy Romsburg said.

The HowiGripp sells for $39.99.

To someone outside the foods industry, that might sound expensive.

But it's really not, Paul Romsburg Jr. said. "Tools of that nature cost a lot," he said.

"We have a can opener here (at the restaurant) that costs $300. Can you imagine a $300 can opener? So, for our industry, $40 is really meager for the usage and quality you're getting out of it."

The need for such a product seems so natural that, Roy Romsburg said, he was "actually quite surprised" that no other such product existed previously.

"I mean, like these steam tables have been around forever and there was nothing out there other than rags or oven mittens."

This isn't the first time a Romsburg has invented something and tried to market it.

Paul Romsburg Jr. said his father, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam, created a board game called "Island Invasion." The game, based on the military's occupation of Guam during World War II, failed to attract much of a following, he said.

Not successful either was the elder Romsburg's efforts to market to the military video he shot in Vietnam, he said.

But the family is proud that at least it is trying.

"You know how a lot of people think of things, but they don't actually follow through on their invention or thought," Roy Romsburg said.

And, while the HowiGripp has been a "lengthy and costly endeavor," his brother Paul said, "it's starting to be fruitful.

"And what we think was the neatest part of it was, we saw a need and created something and found that a lot of other people have a need, so we've taken it from concept to design to filling a need."

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