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Kaja Thornton Hunter makes a big impact in West Michigan

Kaja Thornton Hunter is an activist and entrepreneur making a big difference in a community she calls family.

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. — We continue celebrating Black History Month but It's not just about looking to the past. It's also about highlighting those who make Black history every single day. 

That includes one Muskegon Heights woman who is part activist and part entrepreneur.

If you live in Muskegon Heights then you probably already know Kaja Thornton Hunter.

She’s the founder of Kaja's Flavor Packs, Overcoming Barriers, and the Us Café, all located in a community she calls family.

You can find Thornton Hunter packaging her special blend of Cajun seasoning to sell in-store and online. It’s just one of the ways this Muskegon Heights native is giving back to the community.

“Seeing people like me in high positions, born and raised in Muskegon Heights in the early 70s, 80s, 90s era, going to high school in Muskegon Heights, all of our teachers were people of color, and just showing us young people that anything is possible," Thornton Hunter said.

During her time at Savannah State University, Kaja fell in love with Creole culture and Cajun spices.

They are flavors she wanted to bring back to her hometown.

“I was in the kitchen and I was mixing some things together and I love seafood. One New Year's I asked some friends if they would come to overeat it with me. And from there, I had 150 people show up at my house bringing crab and bags of shrimp to my house that night. And that's what started Kaja's flavor,” Thornton Hunter said. 

What started as a creative outlet soon turned into a small business shortly before the start of the pandemic.

“I was starting the nonprofit Overcoming Barriers where we help people with disabilities. And I was selling the crab boil plates at that point. It was like $25 a plate out of my mom's garage. It was like this epiphany, you know, the spark in me to just see it, package it,” Thornton Hunter said. 

Profits from the flavor packs support the non-profit Overcoming Barriers, which has also had tremendous growth.

 “That led to the purchase of our building Barney Maffet Place where we were holding that as an activity center and that evolved into the 'Us Café'," Thornton Hunter said. 

The seasoning is used by Chef Stacy Jones in her dishes at the café, and Jones says Kaja's flavors took her cooking to the next level.

“It definitely did take my dishes and give them that flavor that I was looking for," Jones said. 

Jones says it was Kaja that helped her step into her dream job.

“Being with Kaja is motivating. She pushes you, she makes sure that you know that you can do what your passion is," Jones said.

Now Kaja's favor packs have evolved into three different varieties including the original Cajun, garlic lemon pepper, and spicy Cajun.

For entrepreneurs hoping to start their own ventures, Kaja has this advice:

“Jump high and your parachute will open and when it opens just take that glide. It won't be without some turbulence but you'll glide exactly to where you need to be," Thornton Hunter said. 

Kaja attributes her success to family and the Muskegon Heights community for always cheering her on and lifting her up.

You can find Kaja's flavor packs at the Us Café, at BoomTown Market, and at Fish Monger’s Wife.

Kaja is also in the process of getting the products on the shelves at Meijer, Walmart and Amazon.

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