Above, Ben Parsons, Mary Weary, Christa Harris and Micheal-Holmes are the Menu Maker catering team. // SUBMITTED
By SUSAN T. LEATHERS
Mary Weary didn’t set out to create one of America’s favorite restaurant side dishes; the then-young food broker just wanted to sell Cracker Barrel her client’s potatoes.
Before starting Menu Maker Catering 25 years ago, Weary spent a decade working in sales and marketing with a Nashville firm. In her role, she often developed recipes and menus that featured clients’ products.
The Lebanon-based restaurant chain didn’t buy the potatoes but loved her Hash Brown Casserole recipe. The dish remains a staple on Cracker Barrel’s menu.
Those who remember and loved the fudge pie at Ireland’s steak and biscuit restaurants before the Nashville-based chain closed have tasted her work. Weary also developed and tested recipes for Mr. Gatti’s Pizza, Shoney’s, O’Charley’s and Opryland USA theme park among others.
“That’s how the Menu Maker name started,” she said, rifling through a huge file of original recipes in her home office.
The 1974 University of Memphis degree hanging above her large desk officially reads “Food Administration” but Weary proudly identifies herself as a “home ec” major and credits her education for her success in all phases of her adult life.
Mary didn’t inspire the popular musical theater series, “Church Basement Ladies,” but she could have.
She estimates she has worked in a least 100 church kitchens in Middle Tennessee. Her “Wednesday Night dinners” put her on the catering map. At one local church, Wednesday night attendance grew from 75 to over 300 while she was the church’s food and hospitality director.
Her influence was felt well beyond church kitchen walls, however. The longtime member of First Baptist Church Nashville once penned the popular “Your Church Kitchen” column for the Southern Baptist Sunday School Board (now LifeWay). And prior to her marriage, she also wrote “Cooking for One,” a magazine column targeted to single professional Baptists like herself.
Her husband of 33 years, John Weary, doesn’t share his wife’s love of cooking but is a master at the grill, Mary says. You won’t find him using any of Menu Maker’s commercial stoves, cooktops or dishwashers, but he’s played a big role in their acquisition over the years.
The Wearys enjoy a mutual respect for each other’s professional and personal interests; John is in his fourth decade as an insurance professional. Twenty-five years ago they designed a large, beautiful home on five secluded acres in Williamson County’s Hidden Valley community where both continue to lead
their respective businesses. When they’re not working, they enjoy traveling and camping in their RV.
Though the couple never had children, Mary has been a surrogate mom to many over the years. One of those is Annie Roberson, now a 21-year- old University of Alabama senior. Annie grew up helping out at Menu Maker events alongside her mom Susie Roberson, who’s been by her friend Mary’s side since the company began and remains a stalwart member of its support team.
Long before Annie left for college, Mary discovered her young friend’s artistic and computer skills. She encouraged her to design marketing materials for the company. Today Annie has an official role as Menu Maker Catering’s social media coordinator.
Mary knows how important mentors can be. She credits her mother and grandmother for passing along their culinary skills and love of entertaining. Her mother’s cheese wafer recipe is just one of the “100-year-old recipes” incorporated into Menu Maker’s contemporary menu.
Spaghetti and brownies were Mary’s favorite foods to make and eat as a girl, no doubt inspired by her Betty Crocker Jr. Cookbook. While her personal and professional food palates have grown and evolved through the years, that first cookbook remains a treasured possession.
Mary knows that good taste in all things never goes out of style, nor does spaghetti and brownies.