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A series of POWERFUL PODCASTS by WOMEN, about WOMEN. Women’s strength has shaped the world in which we live in all possible aspects, the likes of government, education, health, science, business, spirituality, arts, culture and MORE. NPR-WGVU Public Media’s POWERFUL WOMEN: LET’S TALK podcast is a series of interviews with diverse women who are trailblazers who have helped shape our community and transform who we are and how we live. Hear them tell their stories in their own words.This podcast will be released in the summer of 2020 which corresponds to the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing and protecting women’s constitutional right to vote in the United States. This release will also parallel PBS national programming celebrating this historic event.POWERFUL WOMEN: LET’S TALK is hosted and produced by NPR-WGVU Public Media’s own team of powerful women, Shelley Irwin and Jennifer Moss.

Powerful Women Let's Talk - 044: Jenna Arcidiacono

Jenna Arcidiacono
Jenna Arcidiacono

Jenna Arcidiacono’s first job at 14 was slinging chili dogs and root beer floats at Cook's Drive-In in Kentwood, Michigan. Now, she is an award-winning chef giving back to the community.  We talk about her journey, her television appearances, her restaurant, and why the color pink so important to her. Listen to our conversation with Powerful Woman Jenna Arcidiacono.  

Powerful Women: Let’s Talk is created by WGVU NPR and made possible by WGVU NPR sustaining monthly donors. Become a sustaining monthly donor now at wgvu.org/donate to support WGVU NPR’s local programs, including Powerful Women: Let’s Talk.

Full Transcript:


>> Produced by women about women. Powerful Women, Let's Talk is a series of interviews with women who are trailblazers and have helped shape our world transforming who we are and how we live.


Shelley Irwin: Jenna Arcidiacono’s first job 14 was slinging, chili dogs and root beer floats at Cooks Drive-in. Let's just say she's come a long way baby. Today she alongside her family chase the dream of opening her own Amore Trattoria Italiana too many to name accolades Grace her mantel and as of late she's been on a roll giving back to the community, both monetarily and in service she is fluent in Italian but, we asked her to be gentle and talk to us in English. Welcome to this edition of Powerful Women, Let's Talk. I'm just going to call you Chef Jenna.

Jenna Arcidiacono: That's fine, that’s what everybody does.

Shelley Irwin: Because your name is Italian I trust.

Jenna Arcidiacono: My husband's is I'm a big DEVries you know, four pages of the of the phone book when I was growing up were DeVries and I'm one of those.

Shelley Irwin: Wonderful and now you've moved to the alphabet of A.

Jenna Arcidiacono: Yeah, yes.

Shelley Irwin: There we are. So you do serve a type of chili dog or root beer float at Amore in honor of your beginnings?

Jenna Arcidiacono: No, no, but you know, sometimes I'm tempted to make a root beer float. I love root beer and we have gelato at the restaurant so, I can make a salty caramel root beer float with a gelato there. It would be good.

Shelley Irwin: Whatever the customer wants. You are all about customer service. Let's get this out of the way why all the pink?

Jenna Arcidiacono: Pink is the color of unconditional love. Did you know that?

Shelley Irwin: I did not know that.

Jenna Arcidiacono: So I am big a big supporter of being unconditionally loving to everyone and I want I would love to see that happen more often, especially right now in our world. We could use a little bit more love and I miss hugging people really bad.

Shelley Irwin: How does that pour over into your work?

Jenna Arcidiacono: Well, I think I just have a lot of empathy for people right now. This year's been tough. I’ve heard a lot of very sad stories. You know, people message me with things that are going on and ask for donations of food or just pick me up ideas and so that's where my new 501(C)(3) nonprofit came from is noticing that people really need hugs right now. So Food Hugs is a thing as of last month.

Shelley Irwin: Let's get into what pays the bills. Yes, your first job at 14 was in the restaurant business and today, you are in the restaurant business. What happened in between?

Jenna Arcidiacono: Nothing. I went to college. I have a degree in art from Michigan State and then I couldn't get away from restaurants it just became my passion and I tried other jobs and I just couldn't do it and I love the restaurant life even after the year we've had, I still love the restaurant life and I don't I think I will change it. I think this is what I'm going to always be doing.

Shelley Irwin: Wonderful. So what is the role of a restaurant owner in these times?

Jenna Arcidiacono: What isn't the role right now. I feel like we're doing everything. We're making sure staff has a job. We never closed one time during covid. We were open every single day for a while. right after we were supposed to shut down indoors, we opened for 7 days from 4 to 7 doing takeout. We want to make sure staff was covered, they are family as well.  So we make sure they at least had one good meal and you know, one meal at Amore is two. So we just wanted to make sure everyone was seeing care of and then after we made sure they were taken care of. We wanted to make sure hospitals were taken care of with food. So we would surprise them with meals and EMT’s and the local fire stations and the police departments and then it just grew from there and it was so rewarding and so fun to do and people started seeing that we were doing that and started donating food so we could continue to do that and then Mike Rowe donated $10,000 so we could continue to do that. So it was kind of whirlwind, but kind of an awesome butterfly effect.

Shelley Irwin: Why is your community so important to you?

Jenna Arcidiacono: They're the people that you know, are surrounding us every day and we want to make sure that they're doing OK. So just basically that I just want to see more people smiling and when I want to make sure we're all okay mentally and physically. It's been a hard mental year. So really big into helping out other non-profits like Vonnie who runs I Understand she's a good friend of mine and I've learned a lot from her watching what she's doing and kind of taking the stigma away from mental health and we have a long way to go with that. A lot of things are happening right now because of such a long year of being kind of cooped up that we really, really need to focus on that too. So just being aware of what everyone is going through right now. It's really important to just be kind. You don't know what other people are going through on a daily basis.

Shelley Irwin: And you've been taking care of your employees.

Jenna Arcidiacono: Yeah. Yeah. They're a family. Like I said, it's been a hard year mentally and physically on them. You know, worries of working during covid and we're very safe, we've had the whole year, we've had a lot going on as far as temperature taking and extra work on the staff's part and so we'd like to remind people to show grace when they go out. We're very short staff right now. I don't know if you've heard, but every single place in town, some of are closing because they don't have staff. Not every day but, losing a few days which is horrible when we have the business, but we have the staff to cover that.

Shelley Irwin: So what is the secret to success in a family business?

Jenna Arcidiacono: You know, it's hard to run a family business but, it's also rewarding, you know, last weekend both of our girls were working Javia  was at the hostess stand and Joy was doing dishes. They prep. They know what a family business is. They see us working and I think that's going to provide them with some good work ethic in the future and we notice that it's hard to find people with good work ethic right now.

I can't really understand why I would like to know why but, learning that working will give you money and how much the value of the dollar is and you’re like what this is all I made. You know what I mean? Or, you know, okay, this is what I need to do to build up money for a car or gas or what it's like to actually grow up and have a place of your own and a car and insurance. You know, those are all things we really need to talk about with our kids and it's important for us to show them, you know, bills, medical bills, all the things that adults have to pay for. So they know. Wow, this is really what's going to happen to us someday soon.

Shelley Irwin: Can you leave work at work?

Jenna Arcidiacono: No. It's fine. I mean, there are days where we're so over it that we just say, hey, we're not going to talk about work again tonight but, you know, it's hard for it not to creep in once in a while when we're at home, we have to talk about scheduling or who wasn't showing up today or, you know, do we have to add extra people on the schedule today. You know, just stuff like that but, we've always worked together Mauricio and I since the beginning since we met. So we're so used to it now, it's just kind of a thing.

Shelley Irwin: We don't find pink on Mauricio

Jenna Arcidiacono: You know, he's very much a background guy and he's an awesome guy but, he prefers to stay in the background and let me shine and I appreciate him for that. I mean, sometimes I wish that he would kind of show his awesomeness but, after so many years in the industry he's finding himself in the back, doing all the paperwork and kind of hiring, firing, coaching, counseling and all that fun stuff.

Shelley Irwin: Speaking of accolades in your introduction. You've been on TV?

Jenna Arcidiacono: I have a couple times but yeah, the one people talk about the most is well, no, actually recently it's the micro Returning the Favor but, also Guy's Grocery Games was really fun on food Network. They fly you out to Santa Rosa where Guy lives and his studio is nondescript and they actually like cover up the van. So you can’t see where you’re going. The actual studio is like a grocery store. It's amazing and I actually got to be on the Halloween episode that year which is awesome because it plays often every year on Halloween, they go through all the episodes on the Wednesday before Halloween and I love Halloween so it's perfect. I wanted to dress up as a fork but, they said it would get in the way of me cooking, but it was a hilarious costume because I knew I had to be something nondescript because of all the copy right rules. So ended up being like pinky from Greece kind of 50's thing. So yeah, it was really fun and we got a meet Guy a little bit before because we're all nervous to meet him and he was a great guy. A really, really nice guy.

Shelley Irwin: I have to ask, how did you to do?

Jenna Arcidiacono: That's a great question. A lot of people ask me but, my answer is always this: please go watch it. I don't like to tell you what happened. I want you to see what happens and, you know, local TV all the time because but, I miss it. I haven't been asked to because of covid for a long time. So I can't wait to get back to normal a little bit normal. So we can go back in the studios and see our friends there.

Shelley Irwin: Yes. Would you describe your earrings?

Jenna Arcidiacono: Yes, my earrings are always a fork and a spoon. My friend Mary made them for me in the beginning of Amore and I wear them every day. She's actually had to make me new pairs because I’ve worn them out but, I also have a fork that I got on my neck from like a friend and she just made it into a necklace for me, it's fun.

Shelley Irwin: You drive a hot pink fill in the blank

Jenna Arcidiacono: Infinity. Sparkly yes, all my friend at Label Motorsports, Justin wrapped it for me last year and it's the most fun car to drive on the planet it’s happy, it's sparkly and no one can say they don't see me while driving. You know, they see me

Shelley Irwin: Now, this is an odd fun fact: You are a vegetarian.

Jenna Arcidiacono: I am. I have been since high school. A lot of people don't know that.

Shelley Irwin: Why vegetarianism for you?

Jenna Arcidiacono: So in high school, I was in a physiology and anatomy class, it was like one of the toughest classes in school and the only reason I took it is because I have an art degree and my art teacher wanted me to learn the muscle and bone structure so I could draw it better, which I thought was genius but my tennis coaches husband and the boys basketball coach was the physiology/anatomy teacher. He was also a drivers ed coach. You know, the button up shirt with the snaps that was Mr. West he was such a character. Hi, Mr. West if you’re listening. He made us dissect a cat and so during class when we were doing that. Hit me wow, I'm eating animals and when we opened up the cat, it looked like a chicken breast, and I thought I don't think I can do this anymore. It just something clicked in my head and I was done.

Shelley Irwin: Yes, but let's dispel any myths. I can walk into Amore and get myself some meat.

Jenna Arcidiacono: Of course I love cooking it. Don't get me wrong. I don't tell anyone need to be a vegetarian. This is a personal choice. I love cooking meat I learned to cook it for my mother-in-law. She taught me how to make the rabbit that's on our menu and once you do something a million times, you just get good at it, right. Also, my husband is very particular and he is the test taster and if it's not right, he will make me fix it but, after some years of doing it, you just get used to doing it. So we have plenty of meat. We have local lamb from SNS lamb and the rabbits are from there as well.

Shelley Irwin: Yes, talk to me more about your nonprofit called Food Hugs.

Jenna Arcidiacono: Yes, we just started the nonprofit called Food Hugs about a month and a half ago after kind of thinking about it for a while. We started doing something called Tip back Thursday in January and we've given back $41,000 in $1000 increments to local restaurants in about 3 months. So it's been really exciting. People can hashtag Tip back Thursday if they need a feel-good moment and watch the videos. I'm also on tiktok.  I always post the videos of us giving back money and the surprise on people's faces are tears or I mean, this just a very emotional moment for me to be able to give that and for them to be able to receive it. There's been a lot of moments. Beautiful moments and I've met a lot of amazing people doing this that I didn't know before and I thought I knew a lot of people in the industry but, so many more people I get to meet.

Shelley Irwin: So say something to us in Italian

Jenna Arcidiacono: *speaking in Italian*

Shelley Irwin: Obviously I don't know what you said.

Jenna Arcidiacono: I said: What would you like me to say?

Shelley Irwin: I think that'll, do the trick. Did you learn that growing up or?

Jenna Arcidiacono: I learned by living there with Mauricio and his family. When I moved over there for about 3 years after we got married. Three years I lived there. We had a cute little apartment that was one of Mauricio brothers and he moved to another place. We were one of the only people in our friend group, that had a garden, we had a fig tree, we had rosemary bushes, we had Kiwis, we had a cute little garden and a grill. In Italy that's hard because most people live  in apartments there and it was hard for me growing up in a house with a yard to live in a small compact space but, it was also when the euro started. So they changed lira to euro and a lot of the country started to think they were going to be smart and make everything so 2000 lira should been one euro and they didn't do that. They just kept it at 2 euro and so everyone who was making money was making half of what their salary was. It was hard to survive at that point at all and Mauricio and I both had jobs. I was working as a English teacher ESL and they hired me on the spot because they had an American accent and not an English accent because most of their teachers were from England. I mean, I liked it but it wasn't restaurant work. So I was ready to come home and if I was going to have babies, I wanted to make sure that I understood the language well enough with the doctors that were there and I'm still learning Italian. So I felt more comfortable here but, Mauricio stays very homesick. I mean, in his whole family he’s one of 11 and I'm an only child. So it was a hard decision to make and he's ready to, you know, retire and live half the year here and have the year there that will happen sooner than later I think.

Shelley Irwin: Are you Chef Jenna, being watched by younger chefs? Specifically women as far as finding a brand, having a work ethic, do you realize you're being watched?

Jenna Arcidiacono: I hope I'm being watched. I always throw it out there for girls who want to come and spend the week in the kitchen with me or a day. I would love to show them around, show them what my days look like. I mean, that's huge for me and look, I would love to be a mentor for anyone, I have a couple people right now and one of the things Food Hugs does is a scholarship for a female who wants to be a chef or an owner someday. So hopefully by September, we'll have enough money raised to leave a big check on someone's doorstep for their college.

Shelley Irwin: Do see your daughters entering this profession?

Jenna Arcidiacono: No. I think they see how much work it is, how hard it is, how much time it takes away from family but, we are glad that they're the restaurant so we can hang out a little bit more. This year has been an eye opener. We've got the silver lining is that we had a lot of time to hang out and have family dinners every night because we were open 4 to 7 and my little Giada said the other day “I really loved it when we're all home for dinner around 8 o'clock as a family,” it's such a big, big, big thing to have a family meal at least once a day where you can just put your phones away and talk about your day and I think it's really healthy for not only parents but, for kids just sit around the table and in chat and talk about what's going on in the world. We have a lot of big discussions during those and they're really fun discussions and interesting in intelligent discussions about the world and I love that we have that time this year.

Shelley Irwin: And that's real home cooking that's not take out from Amores.

Jenna Arcidiacono: No, we cook, all of the family cooks. Actually, my girls can really cook. My oldest one especially just made fresh pasta as a snack after school this week.

Shelley Irwin: Could be worse ..whats next Chef Jenna, your Mantle's full. Can you carve out something next for you, your family and your community?

Jenna Arcidiacono: You know, that's a great question. Continue to build on Food Hugs. That's my step continue to feed people amazing fat pieces of lasagna  all those things and continue to just spread smiles hopefully and joy to the community as much as I possibly can.

Shelley Iwin: Whats a quote that gets you motivated and can get us motivated?

Jenna Arcidiacono: A quote? I have a couple that I can't say on the radio, but my staff knows what I'm talking about but, mainly my big one is: be kind.

Shelley Irwin: What's for dinner tonight?

Jenna Arcidiacono: Actually tonight, my friend from she's actually from the UP went up to their family over spring break and I begged her to bring me back some pasties from Roy's in Houghton. So, I'm so excited. I thawed one out before I left home today and tonight and making a pastie. Now, my question to you is gravy or ketchup?

Shelley Irwin: I'm going with ketchup. Is that ok?

Jenna Arcidiacono: It is the big fight up there.

Shelley Irwin: Appreciate you being here.

Jenna Arcidiacono: Thank you for having me.

Shelley Irwin: And thank you for listening to this edition of Powerful Women, Let’s Talk. I'm Shelley Irwin.


Produced by women about women. These powerful podcasts focus on powerful women and how their strength transforms who we are and how we live. want to hear more Powerful Women, Let's Talk? Get additional interviews at WGVU.org or wherever you get your podcasts. Please rate and subscribe. It is produced by WGVU at the Meijer Public Broadcast Center at Grand Valley State University. The views and opinions expressed in this program do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU, its underwriters or Grand Valley State University.


Shelley Irwin is the host and producer for The WGVU Morning Show, a newsmagazine talk-show format on the local NPR affiliate Monday through Friday. The show, broadcast from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. features a wide variety of local and national newsmakers, plus special features.
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