A few years ago, restaurant operators approached Dennis Smock, founder and owner of Easy Rooter Plumbing in Sparks, with a problem: How to safely and efficiently dispose used cooking oil.
Often times the only alternative for companies get rid of used oil was to drain it into an open container such as a tin pan or pot and cautiously transport it to an outdoor dumpster bin on the property.
But the process usually presented a headache both for employees and the environment.
So Smock turned to his son, Austin, to help find a solution to the problem.
“A lot of cities don’t want outside bins (for disposing the oil) because the water was getting polluted, and a lot of (restaurant workers) were hurting or burning themselves disposing oils into the bins,” said Austin Smock, who serves as sales representative for the company.
What the company invented, under the creative direction of its general manager and chief ‘scientist’ Matt Thurman, was a mobile deep fryer vacuum.
Think of it as a Shop-Vac for the restaurant industry.
The system is designed to be simple and safe enough for restaurant workers to use themselves.
After the oil is taken out, it is resold to an undisclosed biofuels company based in California.
Austin estimated it took about three to four years for research and development of the product before they could take it to market. The company used its own available material to develop and produce the device. They are also tinkering with modifications. For example, they want to figure out a way to suck out the dirty, used oil and replace tanks with unused oil.
Since introducing the system, Easy Rooter’s product is used in more than 100 establishments, including traditional restaurants like McDonald’s, Chili’s, to resorts such as Grand Sierra Resort and even hospitals including Renown and Saint Mary’s.
“Literally everywhere you have a fryer, it’s going to be beneficial because you don’t have to transport it outside and carry it 50 to 100 yards in a little pot to a dumpster, or do one fryer at a time like they do it now,” Austin said. “This unit holds a 55-gallon tank and can do like eight fryers in a minute.”
Easy Rooter offers the system free of charge to clients. It chooses to do so as a courtesy and to market the company’s other plumbing-related services to establishments.
Austin now is marketing the system to potential clients along with the company’s other services, by doing door-to-door sales pitches.
While he markets the device to Nevada establishments, he envisions an ambitious plan to take it to California, where disposal of hazardous material such as cooking oil is under heavy state regulations. He eventually wants to approach government entities making it mandatory equipment for restaurants and other food-related establishments.
Easy Rooter worked with patent attorney Mark A. Goodman, an associate of Kalicki/Collier, a Reno law firm, to patent its system.
Austin indicated at least a few competitors have tried to imitate or even sell the concept as their own. In a letter claiming Easy Rooters’ patent prepared by Kalicki/Collier, it warns restaurant operators of being approached by other companies with similar systems.
Along with its patent, Easy Rooter also created a subsidiary, Environmental Resources, Inc., as an arm to manage the vacuum marketing, sales and disposal of used oil.
Dennis Smock started Easy Rooter in 1979, after working for another plumbing company in the Reno area, Roto-Rooter for more than 15 years. Smock, who also played football at the University of Nevada, Reno and was a former Mr. Nevada bodybuilding champion, eventually took over the company’s Reno location. But the promise was never fulfilled and he eventually went into business on his own.
Now approaching 70 years old, the elder Smock is ready to hand over the reins to Austin. The company has probably anywhere from 25 to 30 employees at a given time and its services range throughout northern Nevada, including the Carson Valley as well as Fallon and Lake Tahoe.
The younger Smock has served in many capacities for Easy Rooter, including working on projects in the field and well as working on the sales side of the business. Austin is eager to continue his father’s company into the next generation including the evolution of its new product and subsidiary.
“I have a lot to learn, but I’m just grateful to be where I’m at right now,” he said.
Austin Smock says the company offers other capabilities including trenchless sewer line and drain line renovation or replacement services.
“We’re the only company in northern Nevada to my knowledge who can do literally everything,” he said.