Chicken tenders provide inspiration for creative UNO alumnus

Photo courtesy of John Treinen

Cassie Wade

Crispy, crunchy, breaded chicken tenders add a touch of comfort to many restaurant menus, but for University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) alumnus John Treinen, ordering chicken tenders when going out to eat is about more than enjoying the familiarity of a well-loved dish.

It’s about pursuing a passion, building a brand and exploring his creativity.

Treinen is the creator of “It’s Tender Time!” a website dedicated to the pursuit of the best chicken tenders around. “Tender Time” and its social media accounts, which feature plenty of plates piled high with chicken tenders and sides of waffles, biscuits and fries, were born from a joke dating back to his days as a marketing major at UNO.

“There’s kind of been goofy little things that have built up to let’s make something out of this,” Treinen said. “It’s not like all I’d eat was chicken tenders, but over the years, especially towards the end of college, it became a thing, and I’d go to Old Chicago, order tenders and say ‘it’s tender time!’”

Treinen’s catchphrase eventually led to inspiration for his website, but other chicken tender-themed adventures played a role in inspiring him, including tender tasting meet-ups with friends, a chicken tender themed birthday party and even a tender cake at his wedding.

“I don’t know how my wife let me have that,” Treinen said. “I joked with her that I would keep it in the bathroom as long as she would let me have it and it did not upstage our wedding.”

Eventually, Treinen, a videographer at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska, decided to take his love of chicken tenders to a new level by pursuing his passion for creating–a passion he’s had since he was a child.

“I’ve always been a big multimedia junkie,” Treinen said. “It started when I was a kid, taking lots of art classes and drawing, taking pictures with my little point and shoot.”

However, he worried about potentially getting burned out by taking “Tender Time” from a list in his phone to a full on brand since he’d be using his creative thinking and editing skills each day at work and in his free time.

“I thought can I really do this?” Treinen said. “How do you get it out there in a way that’s smart? I see so many things where somebody will start a project, and it becomes too much, so you drop off. I didn’t want it to be like that, so I wondered how to make it easy on myself but still fun.”

The answer to Treinen’s questions lay in his desire to prove to himself that he could complete the project and add it to his diverse portfolio of videos, graphic design and photography. So, over a five-year period, he set out to build his website, paid close attention to the fine details of his “Tender Time” logo and even created a rating system called the Tender Test.

His test includes four categories for rating chicken: taste, texture, tenderness and the twist, a unique spin on the well-loved restaurant item. Don’t ask this chicken tender level to test out a twist on the traditional structure of a tender, though. Nuggets and pop corn chicken are no-go’s on “Tender Time’s” website.

“Tender Time” has been up and running for a year and continues to evolve. Recently, the brand expanded to Instagram to not only keep up with the times, but to help Treinen keep his website up-to-date with each chicken tender adventure. Social media also helps get his brand out to the masses without requiring him to spend too much time writing online content.

“I’m trying to keep it fun and reasonable so that I’m not spending my waking hours worrying about chicken tenders all the time,” Treinen said. “I don’t want my grave to say ‘I ate chicken tenders’ and have it be the one thing that I’m known for.”

With “creativity in his blood,” Treinen shouldn’t have to worry too much about only being known for his love of chicken tenders, especially when his ability to view the world differently from behind the lens of a camera is considered.

“It’s kind of about looking at something and knowing there’s something interesting about anything,” Treinen said. “We’re from Nebraska and so many people say ‘oh, it’s a fly over state’ or think there’s nothing between California or New York. Being from here, I know that there’s stuff everywhere.”

For Treinen, there’s something interesting about chicken tenders. Dip them in barbecue, ranch or ketchup. Serve them on a sandwich, with waffles or biscuits. He’ll find a unique perspective on them and share it with the world.