Ed Fisher: Big Green Egg Founder and Buckhead’s Unexpected BBQ Icon
If you’ve ever attended a Memorial Day or Labor Day party, or headed over to a friend’s barbecue—which is to say, everyone—you’ve likely seen a Big Green Egg. Rich green in color, about two to three feet tall, and shaped like the breakfast food it’s named after, the Big Green Egg grill has become a cult favorite among casual pit masters. And although the Big Green Egg has become an international barbecue phenomenon, its beginnings have a humble story that started right here in Buckhead.
Ed Fisher, the founder of the Big Green Egg, first hatched the idea for his now-famous product in the early 1970s. A Buckhead resident for more than 40 years, Fisher (yes, he’s a cousin of the famous crooner of the same last name) got his start in business selling Japanese arcade machines in Miami. He moved to Atlanta to develop another Southern market for the arcade-game machines, and originally saw the kamado cookers—also from Japan and the inspiration behind the Big Green Egg—as a way to entertain potential clients. “I thought I’d cook wings for people coming in to shop for the pachinko machines,” he says. “Everyone who tasted the wings said they were the best they’d ever had, and soon, the grill became more popular than the machines.”
Fisher ditched the machines completely and began working to develop his own grill, after originally importing them from Japan. “I didn’t feel like I had enough control of the creation process,” he says. “Parts would arrive broken, or I’d want to tweak something inside a grill, so I went to Georgia Tech and asked if any ceramics students could help me.” Georgia Tech couldn’t help, but Fisher eventually partnered with a company in Mexico (the deal was formalized with a handshake), who still makes all the grills to this day. “Today, we’re too large to be operating without a contract though,” Fisher say with a laugh.
Though it’s a globally renowned brand with a presence in backyards and Michelin-starred restaurants alike, the office itself has the feel of a small, family-owned business: Guests are welcomed with coffee and ginger biscotti, and when he first walks in, Fisher is sure to greet nearly every employee with a hug. Elsewhere in the office, there are colorful lights that add a bit of décor to an otherwise white, industrial space, and a gym for those who need to stay healthy after diving deep into the barbecue life.
Much of this can be credited to the leadership of Fisher himself, who, over the last 40 years, has cultivated a corporate culture that puts the product—and customer first. To this day, all new hires start by working retail, regardless of their role. As Fisher puts it: “It’s very important that every employee knows how to talk to customers about the product and all of our accessories,” which now include recipe books, key chains, bottle openers, apparel, and other knickknacks. It’s an approach Fisher learned from his time with the Navy, where he served as an engineer. “In the Navy, they taught us when you’re on the ship out at sea, if someone gets sick or wounded in battle, you can’t pick up the phone and say, ‘Send me someone to replace the hurt person.’ You have to make do with what you have on the ship, so people were trained in every job on the ship. Somehow I carried that over in business—I made sure my employees knew other jobs.”But for as much as he and his team have done to raise the Egg’s profile, Fisher credits the product itself for its meteoric rise. He recalls an early day in the company’s history when he was doing an outside cooking demo with the Egg. Fisher cooked a turkey for the five couples who were browsing the store. After trying the turkey, every couple went home with a cooker. “I put the knife in the turkey, and all the juices just oozed out,” he remembers. “I think it proved that whatever you throw onto this grill—even something like turkey, which usually tastes so dry—comes out tasting delicious. You just throw what you want on there—and it’s so easy to use.” Fisher’s personal favorites are still some of his early-day experiments: Wings, salmon, and turkey.
Fisher says the Big Green Egg accounts for just 2% of the grills sold annually in the United States. That’s something he wants to change. “For all we’ve accomplished, it just shows how much more opportunity we have to share this product,” he says. “There’s 98% of grill buyers who don’t use the Egg—that’s a huge opportunity.”