Susan Castriota’s eye for design has served her well as a children’s book author and illustrator. But never could she have imagined it would earn her a spot peddling cookware on the QVC home shopping channel.
Then again, the Upper St. Clair resident never thought she’d be diagnosed in 2012 with an aggressive form of breast cancer, either, or that she’d have to undergo a double mastectomy along with multiple rounds of chemotherapy.
Terrible as it was, her illness turned out to have something of a silver lining, in that it kick-started her career as an inventor.
While recovering from surgery in early 2013, Ms. Castriota took stock of her diet and cooking habits, and grew concerned that her many years of microwaving food in plastic containers and with plastic wrap might have caused her illness. Hours of research later, she says, she uncovered “overwhelming” scientific evidence that cookware made with BPAs can release cancer-causing chemicals called dioxins into food. Something had to change.
The only problem was she couldn’t find any safe substitutions for using plastic covers in the microwave. While there are plenty of glass bottoms on the market, no one had yet thought to make glass tops. So Ms. Castriota decided to invent her own universal lid using borosilicate glass, the original material for Pyrex. She’s slated to sell her product Cuchina Safe Universal Glass Lids this month on QVC during a yet-to-be-determined, six- to eight-minute segment.
“When you ’re new, they only give you a week’s notice,” she says. She’s hoping to be paired with master pitchman David Venable, whose twice weekly “In the Kitchen With David” segments are QVC’s most-watched show. “I’m expecting any day to get the call.”
She started with sketches that eventually morphed into foam core models. A design firm then turned the perfected model into a STL (rapid prototyping) file, which allowed for creation of a 3-D prototype from which glass samples were made at a plant in China. The 8-inch lid features concentric circles that allow it to fit on top of most glass and ceramic bowls, mugs and glassware. There’s also a vent for easy and fast steaming.
But how to sell them, and to whom?
To complete what she knew would be a Herculean task, Ms. Castriota figured she needed something big right off the bat. As luck would have it, a high school friend knew someone who had worked at QVC’s West Chester headquarters and now was repping food-related items. One call led to another, and in November 2014, one of her lids was on its way to a company buyer in Utah, “with some prayers and crossed fingers.”
He loved it so much that he suggested making a second larger lid so they’d have a set. He also liked the idea that it could be used in a conventional oven up to 400 degrees and as a lid on the stove top.
Another 3-D prototype followed, requiring a mold and samples of the larger, 11-inch lid. The glassware also went through rigorous kitchen-testing at QVC and two other facilities, and an equally tough packaging test to assure the lids wouldn’t break “if a delivery man threw them down the steps,” Ms. Castriota says. In all, the approvals — all secret — took about a year before the first purchase order of 5,000 sets of lids last summer.
Ms. Castriota wanted to produce the product locally. “But everyone said they needed a 30,000 minimum, and what would I do with 30,000 lids?” she asks. She ended up outsourcing the job to China.
Ms. Castriota had to undergo a battery of tests to see if she was up to QVC snuff. Along with a two-hour online test, she had a 45-minute personal interview to gauge her personality. She did well enough that this past December, she earned one of eight spots in an all-day class at the West Chester studio during which she was taped with one of the hosts to test her star power. “And I had to sit down with an acting coach,” she says.
She also got constructive criticism on wardrobe (lose the necklace or people will be calling to buy it), and learned the necessity of a good manicure.
This won’t be her first TV appearance: She was on “The Doctors” and “Fox & Friends” last year to talk about her dog, Bella, who she believes sniffed out her cancer months before her mammogram. She’s also been featured on KDKA-TV’s “Pittsburgh Today Live” and WPXI-TV’s "Our Region's Business" with Bill Flanagan. So while she’s a little bit nervous, she’s “a lot excited.”
If you miss her segment on QVC, where the two-piece set will sell for $24.99, you can purchase the lids on Amazon ($29.99 for the pair, or $14.99 for an 8-inch lid) as well as on the Cuchina Safe website (cuchinasafe.com; $32.99, including S&H). Currently in talks with Zulily and reps for several big box stores, she’s also already working on her Next Big Thing — the “Cover n Cook.” The vented glass plate will serve two purposes: to cover a plate of food in the microwave and then be its cooking bowl when you turn it over. Of course, Ms. Castriota says, the large Cuchina Safe Lid will fit like a glove on top.
Gretchen McKay: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.
First Published January 27, 2016 12:00 AM