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Maggie Cook-Garcia

Maggie's Salsa 
St. Albans, 34

Magdalena De La Cruz Cook-Garcia's products can be found fresh across the United States — quite a feat for a business created with just a few hundred dollars by someone who, a few years ago, didn't have a place to live.

Maggie's Salsa, based in St. Albans, has no preservatives, the sort of quality increasingly difficult to find, including in the shops where her food is featured. Going from being homeless and living out of her car to employing her own staff at a successful company, Cook-Garcia says, takes perseverance.

Cook-Garcia grew up in Mexico, the daughter of missionaries who cared for more than 200 children and adopted more than a quarter as many, giving her 68 brothers and sisters, including eight biological siblings.

"I was raised very poor. Oftentimes we didn't have any food or clothes," Cook-Garcia said. "Sometimes my parents would have arguments because any money that came in my dad would just give it away to the poor to pay for their medicines and food."

Her salsa first came to fame when she won a 2004 Capitol Market contest. 

"Everyone told me ‘you should sell them,'" Cook-Garcia said. "I told them, you are nuts. It cost me $40 to make one gallon of salsa and three hours to chop and mix all of the ingredients. Now we can make 5 gallons in 15 seconds."

After winning the contest, her friends pushed her to go commercial with her salsa. She launched the company with just $800 from a friend. She soon grew the company to a multi-million dollar enterprise without accumulating any debt. 

By 2007, Maggie's Salsa was up and running and Cook-Garcia was able to begin running the company full time. She shipped her product to nearly 100 stores without success. When she landed a deal with Whole Foods Market, business boomed with an initial order of 10,000 pounds of salsa. 

"My first store sale was made with six tomatoes," Garcia-Cook said. "In 2008, the first order we received from The Whole Foods Market was for over 60,000 tomatoes."

When the business started, she did much of the work herself, even earning a truck driver's license. 

Cook-Garcia also wrote a book, "Mindful Success," the story of her rise from the orphanage to becoming a millionaire. She runs Maggie Cook-Garcia LLC, a self-help business with the goal of transforming lives, and also created Pound 4 Pound with the help of Students in Free Enterprise. The program donates a pound of food to a Mexico orphanage for every pound of food purchased from Maggie's Salsa.

"I am very spontaneous, I love adventure, I love a good spiritual read," Cook-Garcia said.