After A Tragedy, This Restaurateur Did What All Entrepreneurs Must: She Learned How To Keep Going Her husband died, but Jen Hidinger continued to chase their dream-while lending a hand to others in the industry.
It was love at first sight, as Jen Hidinger always tells it. Her husband, Ryan, would joke that it took him a bit longer. "Well, for me, it was love at first sight," Jen says. They met at a grocery store in the Indianapolis suburbs. She was 17 and worked the cash register. He was 22 and a line cook at a catering company nearby. He kept coming into her store, giving her a shy wave and buying Bubblicious gum. He bought a lot of Bubblicious.
Finally, one day, he asked if she was free that night. She wasn't; she was babysitting some kids at church. But, she says, "I scribbled my beeper number on receipt paper. I thought he was smokin' hot." Soon they were on their first date. They went to the zoo and then to the arcade at the mall, where she milked a fake cow to earn tickets for cheap tchotchkes. ("We were young," Jen says. "Couldn't go drinking.") A few days later, she asked her parents if she could go on a date with this older guy named Ryan -- as if that hadn't already happened. When he arrived at her house to pick her up, her parents and brother sat him down for what has become known in their family lore as the Spanish Inquisition -- a nod to her mom, who is from Spain. "If you ever touch her," Jen's brother eventually said to Ryan, "it's statutory rape."
That day, Ryan and Jen went to the park, and then back to Ryan's apartment, where he cooked for her. "It was a chicken dish with artichoke and some sort of cheese situation inside," Jen says. "It was terrible -- but for me, it was amazing." And for Ryan, food was an act of caretaking. He'd started cooking out of necessity, for himself and for his sister, Kara, while their mom, a single parent, worked. When Mom did cook, it was often Santa Fe Chicken, a recipe from the back of a Success Rice box. They ate so many TV dinners that when Kara got a dog, she named it Stouffer.