The Story of the Shinwa Grill
By Jane Allen (our Mama-san)
Given that Shinwa seems to be taking off, I thought that it would be important to document the early history of our involvement with this Japanese cooking table.
We now call it Shinwa or “friendship” and we first saw it in a garden restaurant in Tokyo in 1965. My father, Jim Connaughton, took our family on a trip around the world. This included my dad, my mom, Sue Connaughton, and my three brothers, Jim, Tom and Steve. We also brought along one of Jim’s fraternity brothers from Dartmouth, Chuck Allen. That turned out to be fortuitous for several reasons but most importantly for me because Chuck and I met and were married at Notre Dame two years later.
Following our trip, dad bought two of the grill tables and had them sent to our summer home on Diamond Lake in Cassopolis, Michigan. For several years we spent our Sunday afternoons preparing food and eating on the grill tables. We could easily accommodate eight people so friends were always welcome and would anxiously join in the experience. It started with preparing the food, getting the tables set up, and then a long fun meal on the shore of Diamond Lake. It became an institution for all of our friends.
Several years later my son, Jim, expressed his desire to buy a grill table as an anniversary gift for his brother Graham and sister-in-law Brooke. After searching the internet for several days he expressed to me his frustration at not being able to find a source for the grill. I told him that shortly after my dad purchased the grills Chuck disassembled one and drew up a rather detailed engineering drawing. I recalled that the drawing was in a book on our bookshelf. We found the book and drawings and the modern offshoot of the grills, that we had first used in Tokyo, took off.
Chuck’s hand sketched drawings were taken to Sloan Valve Company and converted to computer drawings. Using these computer drawings new parts were fabricated and a sample unit was assembled. The first one became Jim’s anniversary gift for Graham but other models were used to test out improvements that were incorporated in later models.
That’s about where things now stand. Chuck, Kirk, Jim, and Graham have gotten the help of several of their friends to launch the new Shinwa experience. I don’t know if it will be successful, but I do know that everyone is having fun getting involved in this start up. They have made about twenty sample units and they seem to be as popular now as the first ones we used in Tokyo and at Diamond Lake.
Good luck to everyone.
Jane Connaughton Allen
P.S. These notes were found among Jane’s personal papers and were made by Jane in early 2010. Jane passed away on December 19, 2010. Jane will always be part of the Shinwa experience. She was our first Mama-san. That is the name that we used for someone responsible for leading a Shinwa party: Mama-san and Papa-san.
We will always miss you Jane and we hope that you are still having a happy Shinwa experience.