Black Woman's Cooking Invention Hits Mainstream

How Mary Hunter's marinating sticks went from the church to Target.

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Mary Hunter's invention, the marinating stick, at work on a turkey (Chefs Catalog)

The day Mary Hunter, 73, of Gary, Ind., came up with the idea for a way to marinate the inside of the big roasts she would make for her fellow congregation members at Yes Lord Church, she knew she had invented a revolutionary cooking tool. But according to a profile on Hunter in the New York Times, she didn't know it would take 19 years before her invention hit the market.

Hunter leaned on the resources provided by her church to take Mary's Marinating Sticks from dreams to reality. A fellow church member, David Smith, helped her design the stick. Dwayne Hunter, Mary's son and the pastor at Yes Lord Church, got her a spot at the International Home and Housewares Show in Chicago, which led to her appearing on the Food Network show Invention Hunters.

All the while, Hunter was selling Mary's Marinating Sticks direct to market, according to the Times.

Mrs. Hunter took out a second mortgage and contracted with Innovation Stamping, a California company that specializes in producing exhibition booth components. There was some success afterward. She got the product sold in a number of Jewel food stores.

She also created a sales force out of her church. In doing so, she was reaching back to one of the great traditional strategies in in African-American capitalism. A famous practitioner was Sarah Breedlove, a child of slaves, who created a cosmetics empire beginning in 1905 under the name Madame C. J. Walker. She was a pioneer of the strategy now known as direct marketing by creating a sales force drawn mostly from African-American churches and schools, eventually employing 3,000 people.

Unlike other meat injectors, which infuse the meat from a single point in the tool, Hunter's marinating sticks have points extending all around the stick, allowing for the juices to spread more evenly within the interior of the meat. Through her appearance on the show, Hunter teamed up with Lifetime Brands, which has listed her product in Chefs Catalog and made it available on the shelves at Target stores throughout the country. 

Read more at the New York Times.

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