When Shelby Township dad Matt Tidrow became a firefighter, he never dreamed that cooking in the firehouse would prepare him to eventually launch his own food product, Just Add Tomatoes, right here in Michigan.
Tidrow, who has always loved cooking, is continually looking for easy meals because he works 24-hour shifts at the firehouse. “Firefighters do a lot of cooking at the firehouse, and we get interrupted a lot. We try to do quick meals that can be reheated if necessary,” he says.
The birth of a great idea
One fateful day, Tidrow was making homemade pizza for his four children. He usually uses his own sauce, but that day he realized that he didn’t have any left. With 10 minutes until dinner, Tidrow threw together a cold sauce recipe with a lot of spices and a 28-ounce can of crushed tomatoes. Surprised at how good it was, he “grabbed a pen and wrote down the ingredients, figured out the measurements, and made another batch right away.” When his kids loved it, he decided that he could save a lot of time by pre-measuring the spices into bags. Instead of cooking pizza sauce for over an hour, now he could have a great-tasting sauce that even his kids could make in just minutes.
The next step was using the spice packet to make spaghetti and other meals at the firehouse. When his co-workers gave his spice combination the thumbs up, he started taking it to farmer’s markets. From there, he and fellow firefighter Andrew Moran, now a co-owner in the business, approached Kroger. Once they tasted the product at division headquarters in Novi, Kroger picked up Just Add Tomatoes and placed the product in several stores.
For more than just pizza
Today, Tidrow says his product is in 85 Kroger stores in Michigan, including in the Ann Arbor area. Watching his spice packet reach the kitchens of so many people has been exciting. “The coolest thing is getting people’s reactions to it and seeing how much people enjoy it,” he says. Tidrow also loves hearing about the different ways people are using Just Add Tomatoes, including on salad, mixed into a dipping oil, or as a marinara sauce. His own kids especially love mixing the spice packet with butter and putting it on top of popcorn. “It makes a mess, but it’s really good,” he warns.
Tidrow’s journey from firefighter to food entrepreneur hasn’t been entirely easy. “Getting into Kroger as quickly as we did wasn’t the easiest course because we didn’t establish a customer base first,” he explains. Although his product has been very successful, he is still a full-time firefighter and a dad, and balancing those responsibilities with a side business is also challenging.
Q&A with Matt
Favorite way to eat Just Add Tomatoes: My favorite way to use it is to top grilled chicken with spoonfuls of the sauce, slices of provolone cheese and fresh basil. I serve it with good bread for a quick, delicious dinner.
Best thing to do with kids on a Saturday: I like to get them outside to play catch, use the swingset or play soccer.
Best day trip in southeast Michigan: We love the Detroit Zoo, especially the penguin exhibit and butterfly house.
Favorite movie to watch with your kids: Star Wars
Most rewarding thing about being a parent: I love watching kids grow and seeing their personalities develop. Knowing that you’re giving them the tools to problem solve and learn from their mistakes is so rewarding.