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For the Love of Food and Community

Alba Muñoz Saiz | March 21, 2024

People | The Cooking & Culture Project

A shared passion for barbeque unites flavors and friends

On most Sundays in the late summer and fall, you can find Caitlin and Luke Marty preparing for one of their favorite traditions: gathering friends and family for football and barbeque. They rise early in the morning to start their backyard smoker. For hours they work as a seamless team, trading off fixing side dishes and monitoring the slow-cooked meats. It’s no small amount of work, but for Caitlin and Luke, the payoff is worth it. Creating community through food brought the couple together and helped them get through good times and bad.

Over the years, their interest in barbeque has become more serious. They began entering regional competitions. Initially, they focused on mastering traditional barbeque fare such as pulled pork, ribs and chicken. Over time, they evolved, creating their own signature spice blends and sauces. They dubbed the venture “Marty Party BBQ,” and have recently begun a side business, catering food for local events.

Last year, their passion for creating community through barbeque took on a deeper meaning. In 2022, the couple lost their 7-month-old son, Logan, to a rare genetic disorder called CHARGE syndrome. In his memory, Caitlin and Luke have raised thousands of dollars for the CHARGE Syndrome Foundation by hosting barbeque gatherings for friends and family. At the most recent event, more than 125 people attended, raising over $5,600. Caitlin and Luke plan to hold another fundraiser this spring.

”Logan was the strongest little fighter and overcame so many challenges in his short life,” Luke shared. “We miss and love our little man. We hold these events in honor of our son.”

City Mouse, Country Mouse

The couple met 10 years ago when their shifts as production supervisors overlapped at the Hormel Foods Austin (Minnesota) Plant.

They were from different backgrounds. Caitlin was adopted from Singapore by an American family and raised in the Twin Cities. Fans of Asian cuisine, her parents instilled in her a love for exploring a wide array of foods, frequently taking her to experience the diverse culinary landscape the Twin Cities has to offer. After college, she started her career at Hormel Foods at the Austin Plant, working on SPAM® brand products. Just a few months in, she struck up a friendship with Luke.

For his part, Luke grew up in a small town in Wisconsin that lacked even a single stoplight, where his parents ran the local bakery. He fondly recalls his childhood amidst the warm scent of freshly baked goods and the hum of the kitchen. He talks proudly of watching his father evolve from a complete novice to a master baker. Working beside his mother and father from the age of 12, Luke learned a hands-on, can-do approach to challenges that he brings to his career at Hormel Foods and to his barbeque avocation.

After college, Luke was drawn to barbeque through a yearly competition with his friends.

After Caitlin and Luke married in 2016, she became an indispensable part of the barbeque team. She gifted Luke his first smoker, marking a significant milestone. If you are imagining the grill in your backyard, think again. This smoker is the size of a refrigerator and requires a large trailer to transport. Together, they’ve expanded their repertoire, experimenting with various meats and recipes, and even recycling a 55-gallon metal barrel into a homemade smoker.

Learning on the Job

Both attribute part of the team’s success to the skills and knowledge they’ve learned during their careers at Hormel Foods. Through the various positions they’ve held, they’ve learned a great deal about food safety, meat science and the importance of taking care of every step of the process.

“Just like our work at Hormel Foods, ensuring the safety of the food we send out is paramount,” says Caitlin. “Our customers are our friends and family, and it’s our responsibility to make sure they receive safe, high-quality products.”

Luke is now category manager for flexible packaging, responsible for procuring various types of materials for the safe packaging of Hormel Foods products. “Everything that Luke does he’s really passionate about,” says Caitlin. “Both at his job and on weekends when he barbeques, when he commits to something he’s in one thousand percent.”

Caitlin has held a variety of roles both at the Austin Plant, Progressive Processing (Dubuque, Iowa) and at the Corporate Office (Austin, Minnesota) holding several roles. She is the corporate manager of quality and process control for refrigerated foods.

“On our barbeque team, Caitlin definitely wears the quality control hat,” says Luke. “She makes sure that everything we’re doing is safe and clean, and that the presentation to the judges is perfect.”

With a Little Help from Our Friends

They have enlisted the expertise of friends they’ve made on the job. Hormel Foods Graphic Designer Echo Henn helped design the Marty Party BBQ logo. Karen Ristau offered her expertise as a product development scientist to create an award-worthy barbeque sauce that balances sweetness with a hint of heat. Both Echo and Karen, along with others, have become honorary members of the Marty Party BBQ team.

With their success in competitions, Caitlin and Luke have started a weekend catering business. Last fall, the couple catered for the Hormel Foods supply chain event, where they served nearly 180 people. “A colleague from the event planning committee knew we did barbeque and threw us a curveball: ‘How about catering for a big crowd?’” Caitlin recalls. “We’d never tackled anything that size before, but thought, ‘Why not?’ The event turned out great, and it’s got us thinking, ‘What’s next?’”

Much like the barbeque meals the Martys lovingly prepare for their friends and family on the weekends, their work at Hormel Foods is driven by the same dedication to safety and quality, ensuring every product they make is one they’re proud to share.