With five children to feed, church suppers to make, determination and a strong belief in the Lord, Mary Hunter created, with what she considers divine intervention, a new way to add flavor to meat without going through the long process of marinating.
“I’d be doing a turkey or a big roast and I’d have to get up at midnight to turn it in the marinade,” says Hunter who lives in Gary.
It was back in 1994 when Hunter was writing down a psalm when an easier way to marinate came to her.
“The Lord said to me, Mary you take that pen and stick it in the meat,” recalls Hunter.
Of course, Hunter knew the command didn’t mean using a working ink pen. Instead, the idea was to take two pen-shaped object with holes, filled with her own special blend of aromatics—celery, onions, garlic and ginger—and insert one on each side deep into the meat.
“That way when the meat heats up and the juices flow through the aromatics and into whatever you’re cooking—beef, pork, chicken, turkey,” she says.
Not only would her marinating sticks keep her from having to get up in the middle of the night. It also would be a way to create a healthy delicious meal without having a lot of additives or fats. That was perfect for Hunter who had both cancer and diabetes as well as a warning from her doctor to change the way she ate including cutting down her salt intake.
But Hunter loved flavor and so by designing an internal way to add taste to her foods she was also following doctor’s orders.
“It is healthier,” says Hunter, “but I wasn’t doing it for the health, I was doing it for the tang.”
Still says her youngest son, Dwayne Hunter, “everything needs to be fresh, that’s when it works best.”
Whatever her reason, bringing her idea to fruition took some doing. And that’s where the perseverance or should we say plain old doggedness came to play. Hunter enrolled in business classes and after that, to get a prototype made—the first step in getting a patent. And if all that sounds a little overwhelming for a mother with five children and no background in business or engineering, it certainly didn’t stop Hunter. With recommendations from her teacher, she convinced David Smith, a concept designer who also had worked as a professor at University of Illinois at Chicago, to design the prototype. He worked and worked at it wanting to give up several times despite much previous success in bringing concepts to market for major companies but Hunter convinced him that he was chosen by God to help her. Success came but sporadically. She initially got a contract to sell Mary’s Marinating Sticks at Jewel Food Stores and also signed up congregation members of Yes Lord church where Dwayne Hunter is pastor to become sales representatives.
“We want to help people get off of assistance,” says Reverend Hunter who is also, along with David Smith, his mom’s business partner. “We feel that the Lord will open this up so we can help the people of Gary.”
Another step towards success was when Dwayne Hunter got her into the International Home and Housewares Show at McCormick Place which led to a contact with Luck Dog Filmworks, a company working with the Food Networks on the show “Invention Hunters,” a concept where hosts Steve Greenberg and Patrick Raymond search for the best kitchen gadgets in the country.
Hunter’s son knew his mother would win and so she did, taking home first prize. Other breaks started coming fasted. The New York Times came calling and did a story and included information about how testing indicated that meat infused with Hunter’s aromatics has a better taste. Lifetime Brands in 2012 offered a contract to sell her sticks in chefs’ catalogues and at Target. And she has a Website, marinatingstick.com, for people who want to buy her invention online.
“If you could taste my mother’s cooking you would cry, it’s so good,” says Reverend Hunter. He, as well as his two sisters (one now deceased), learned to cook from an early age with their mother.
“Dwayne, being the youngest, was home more when growing up,” says his mother before bestowing her most glowing accolade, “he’s a great cook.”
Indeed cooking is so important to the family that Hunter, now 75, can’t quit giving advice.
“Now the sticks are for the inside,” she says. “You still have to seal your meat. For ham, I like to use fresh pineapple, brown sugar and cinnamon. For meat I like to use a seasoned blend that includes my aromatics.”
Hunter is happy with her success but what she most wants to do is share the gift of cooking and the gift of the idea given to her to do good for others.
“God gave me this,” she says. “So I want to share it with others.”