The Mountain State’s New Salsa Queen
by Leslie Fitzwater
Huntington, W.Va. -- Maggie Cook-Garcia was born and raised in Mexico, but now that she’s here in West Virginia, she plans to stay. Luckily for residents of the Mountain State, she brought her salsa recipe with her.
Maggie’s Salsa is a mouth-watering mixture of Roma tomatoes, sweet onions, garlic, cilantro and peppers, and comes in four flavors - mild, medium, hot and fire. Cook-Garcia’s recipe is different from most other brands because it involves no cooking; all the ingredients are processed while they are fresh. The salsa is distributed into colorful one pound containers designed by Cook-Garcia.
Her fresh approach to salsa is keeping Cook-Garcia busy. In addition to providing Maggie’s Salsa to Kroger stores in the Charleston area, Cook-Garcia recently signed a contract to supply her product to Whole Foods Market stores in the mid-Atlantic region. (Whole Foods ordered five tons of Maggie’s Salsa in the first week!)
In addition to her four variations of Maggie’s Salsa, Cook-Garcia plans the release of her new product, a white queso cheese dip, in late 2008.
Sports scolarships bring opportunities
Cook-Garcia grew up in Mexico, the second-oldest biological child of American parents. Her father, John Cook, was born in Beckley, W.Va. and grew up in South Charleston, while her mother, Maria-Lucia Garcia Romero de Cook, is a Navajo Indian from New Mexico.
In addition to their eight biological children, John and Maria-Lucia adopted another 56 children through their missionary work running an orphanage. One-on-one time with their parents was a precious commodity, but that helped the Cook-Garcia children learn both independence and the importance of sharing. To help out, Cook-Garcia says she learned to cook at an early age. “Growing up with having to line up for food in the kitchen and having to make food, it was kind of like college,” she recalls.
“I believe everything happens for a reason,” Cook-Garcia said. “Hardships are good things that happen, and things that you learn from other people’s mistakes are what make you successful.”
John and the family made a bus trip through the states, stopping in West Virginia. At a picnic hosted in the family’s honor by a Catholic church in Charleston, Cook-Garcia was spotted playing a pick-up game of basketball by one of the coaches of the University of Charleston’s women’s basketball team. That chance meeting led to the school offering her a basketball scholarship. Never one to sit still, Cook-Garcia not only played basketball for UC, but also earned scholarship money playing soccer and by joining the women’s crew team.
The scholarships she earned at the university allowed Cook-Garcia to pursue a bachelor’s degree in interior design, which she completed in 2002. Earning a degree at an American college was not easy though, especially for a young woman who grew up in Mexico speaking very little English.
Faced with this language barrier and the isolation it often brought, her drive to succeed kicked in once again. She sat down with her teachers after class, often for an hour or longer, going over the material and lessons to make sure she understood what was going on in class. Her determination paid off; she graduated with a 3.6 GPA in 2002, and today speaks slightly-accented English both fluently and rapidly.
A place to grow
Today, Cook-Garcia is looking for a bigger facility to house her salsa-making business. She anticipates that her contract with Whole Foods will continue to grow, and as it does she will need a larger space that will let her production grow too. She likes being based in Huntington because it is a major route for distributors, and she hopes to keep her business there.
“I think that West Virginia is a great place to grow. I just cannot wait to be able to grow my business so that I can employ a lot more people and grow it that way. I like to support other people and I like to support West Virginia in what I’m doing,” Cook-Garcia said.