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Che Wise-Jarvis and his Steri-Straw dispenser at downtown Sarasota’s Waffle Stop.

Image: Alex Stafford

Sarasota engineer Che Wise-Jarvis has invented a lot of products, from surgical clamps to surfboard cases. His latest inspiration? Straws.

In 2008, the South African native was living in Australia when he became obsessed with mechanical drinking straw dispensers, the 50-year-old kind with push-down levers that release a single straw at a time. “They’re always jammed, always dirty, and what tended to happen was people would take the lid off the machine and just start helping themselves through the top,” Wise-Jarvis says.

The inventor envisioned an electronic, hands-free straw dispenser and moved with his family to the U.S. to take advantage of the larger market. (He chose Sarasota because it most resembled the beachy lifestyle he’d enjoyed in Australia.) Americans, he realized, often use straws that are individually wrapped in paper for an added sense of sanitation, so Wise-Jarvis incorporated an ultraviolet sanitizer in the design.

His Steri-Straw dispenser, developed at a Cattlemen Road facility and priced at $199, can hold more than 600 straws and is powered by a rechargeable battery pack. (A future version of the product will even send an email when the battery and straws are low.) The cheaper, unwrapped straws should reduce costs for restaurants, cafeterias and concession stands and will require less time and money to clean up discarded wrappers.

Fast-food restaurants, sports arenas and theme parks have all shown an interest in Steri-Straw, and some outlets, including a Universal Studios resort, have signed preliminary contracts. Wise-Jarvis is also targeting medical and governmental markets.

Full-scale production began in China last month, and Wise-Jarvis has plans for similar hands-free products that will dispense sanitized lids, ketchup, napkins and more. 

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