Gretchen Hanson’s life has been full of pivotal moments, all of which have led her to her true calling of helping others. She considers herself a creative jack-of-all-trades but more specifically; a chef, a mom, a teacher and a writer. After nearly a decade of success from her coastal Delaware restaurant Hobos, Gretchen decided to close shop to focus on her family and passion for empowering women. She’s now on a mission to remake the standard American diet, one rainbow colored vegetable and whole food at a time. Keep reading to learn more about Gretchen and how she walked away from a life of chaos to find confidence and peace within.
“The only advice I can give that makes any sense is; if you truly believe that you need to make a change in order to fulfill your life’s purpose, do it.”
Femme & Fortune: Who is Gretchen Hanson? Where are you from and what do you currently do?
Gretchen: I’m originally from southern California but came east when I was sixteen to attend Columbia University. For the last twenty five years, I’ve owned a catering company, event planning business, and restaurant. And most recently, discovered I have a knack for writing and teaching. I have an eBook set to release next month, a one of a kind cookbook coming out this fall, and several other projects up my sleeve.
Femme & Fortune: You had to go against your parents’ wishes to pursue your dreams. How did you know you were doing the right thing?
Gretchen: The short answer is, I didn’t. It was years before I knew. In fact, I was almost certain I made the wrong decision, EXCEPT when I was in the kitchen or creating. Because in those moments, I was truly alive. In those moments, I realized nothing else on Earth would ever make me feel that way. That’s what made it all worth it.
Femme & Fortune: You made a name for yourself in Delaware with your restaurant Hobos. What made it so special?
Gretchen: The restaurant made a name for itself because it was delicious, but also cutting edge, different and quirky. I catered to guests with severe allergies and dietary restrictions, so each interaction was special and precious because I was able to feed them safely and healthily. Since I made everything from scratch, I had complete control over what each person had on their plate. I made all my bases, sauces and dressings vegan, gluten free and peanut free. After that, I could add on whatever I needed.
In addition to being innovative and touchy-feely as a restaurant, we won every major award in the state. I had been a chef my whole life, but only a vegan chef for the last eight years. So to win competitions as a vegan chef bringing tofu to a meat party was pretty freaking cool.
At that time, no one in the fine dining scene in Delaware – the land of fried chicken and crab cakes – was doing interactive menus, no one in the business cared about food allergies, and no other chef seemed interested in feeding people to make them happy. That’s what made us truly special.
Femme & Fortune: What would you say to fellow female entrepreneurs looking to make a career change?
Gretchen: I loathe when people use the phrase “reinvent yourself” to describe a transition of field or career. You are not reinventing yourself, you are merely discovering another part of your passion that you wish to explore. Throughout our lives, we build our character and skills and personality like the foundation of a house. When I was six, I knew I was a quick learner, liked to read and was gifted in the kitchen. As a young teen, I realized I loved to travel and wanted to be an entrepreneur. At twenty, I realized deep diving into my spiritual journey was important to me, but I also wanted to be a mom. And so, stone by stone, the foundation of my house was built. Now I am fifty and have realized that writing and teaching are part of my foundation as well. In order to add them in, I had to rebuild and take a few stones out that no longer served me to make the foundation strong again. It wasn’t an easy process – change can be brutally hard. The only advice I can give that makes any sense is; if you truly believe that you need to make a change in order to fulfill your life’s purpose, do it.
Femme & Fortune: You have two books set to release this year. Why should F&F readers check them out?
Gretchen: My first book, Diet for a new Millennium, is designed to teach women how to take control of their own health and vitality – not by dieting, but by changing the foods they choose to consume. This book teaches the basics about navigating the perils of the grocery store and how to cook the whole foods once you get them home. I go through everything you need to know, in a simple, no nonsense way. There are also YouTube demonstrations for the cooking basics. It’s pretty cool.
The second book (when it’s done) is my story about becoming a chef and accidentally becoming a person along the way. I was not one of those yoga doing, skinny, beautiful twenty something’s, who are blogging about their amazing and peaceful vegan lifestyle. I didn’t even know what ‘namaste’ meant when I was twenty. I had an abusive childhood, which led to a number of eating disorders and the attempt to recreate a relationship with my mother in every man I met. I was a train wreck with a vodka bottle and coke straw. So, yeah, it’s a really great story. Each chapter also has recipes from that dark time. I poured my heart and soul and twenty years of dysfunction into that book. It’s a good read even if you don’t like to cook, and the best part is that everything turns out OK in the end.
Femme & Fortune: How have you managed to pursue a diverse and successful career while also raising a family?
Gretchen: I’ve managed badly, to be brutally honest. I have been married four times (five if you count an elopement to piss off my mother when I was 21). But I believe I’ve finally figured it out. I have a partner who understands and supports me and the intense demands of my creative passions. My kids are pretty fantastic, so I got lucky there. The big plus is that they’ve seen their mother work eighty+ hours a week to put a roof over their heads. They’ve each worked by my side since they were old enough to hold a spatula, and boy can those kids work a table. The point being, not how good I was at violating child labor laws, but how good my kids are at recognizing what needs to be done, and doing it. Hadyn, my youngest, paid for her own trip to Disney by selling snow cones and filling the water bowls for pets on the restaurant’s patio. I like to think that is a lesson she will take with her for the rest of her life; how to work for what she wants and how to be self-sufficient.
Femme & Fortune: What’s next for Gretchen?
Gretchen: Once the eBook and cookbook are off my laptop, I have three other outlines waiting to get started, and I am halfway through my first novel. I want to remake the standard American diet on a national level, so I am always looking for a table big enough to do just that.
In the meantime, I blog away into the dark void of the internet and hope at least one person is listening and making changes. My motto “food is love” was chosen deliberately; if I teach even one person how to care for themselves through nourishing and loving food then all the verbiage will have been worth it.