Jon and Karri Ricklin have eaten at 217 establishments so far, and have about 200 more to go
Over the course of eight years, Jon and Karri Ricklin have eaten at half the diners in the state of New Jersey, and they say they won’t stop until they've hit every single one.
In 2015, the Ricklins were visiting a family member when they looked for the closest restaurant to stop at before heading home. When they ate at Livingston Diner — and Karri snapped a photo of Jon holding up his meal — Jon tells PEOPLE he unintentionally kicked off a challenge for the pair.
“I said, really half kidding, not really being serious, ‘What would be really cool is to take this exact same picture at every diner in the state of New Jersey,’ New Jersey is the diner state, and I said that having absolutely no idea how many there were.”
Jon soon discovered there are about 415 active diners in the Garden State, and throughout their journey, the Ricklins have visited 217 of them. Now, amid their busy work schedules, the duo spend their free time trying to tick the remaining 200 off the list.
On the road, Karri says they also try to “incorporate something else” into their trips — “whether it’s going to parks or wineries or farmer’s markets that are in the area,” Jon shares.
“We started to see the importance of diners in Jersey history and Jersey culture,” he adds. “And at least for me, it kind of gave me a little more motivation.”
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“It's bonding for us too,” Karri shares. “We've been married 39 years.”
Jon is a self-proclaimed foodie, and although he says “Karri hates when I call her that,” Karri admits she also enjoys a good meal. The pair used to go out to “small, international restaurants,” but when they began to put their focus into diner hopping, they gained an appreciation for American cuisine.
“That variety you don't get at any particular restaurant,” Karri says. “You can eat breakfast morning, noon, night, overnight.”
While Karri enjoys her go-to salad or tuna sandwich orders, Jon reveals he likes to switch things up. But whether it is burgers, wraps, paninis or breakfast for dinner, the couple say it is the experience they enjoy.
“It's another way to have fun,” Karri says. “It's kind of like vacation without the suitcase, because when we do these long trips to whatever hours, you're stuck in the same vehicle, so you're talking.”
Being from New York, Jon says he never knew that diners were so popular in New Jersey until he married Karri, who was born and raised there.
“He didn't know what he was missing,” Karri jokes.
Now, the “diner couple” have made a name for themselves out of their devotion to diners — even being recognized a few times. Jon says that during the pandemic, he and Karri made a Facebook page of all their photos of Jon holding up a menu or his food during each stop, and they became local celebrities.
“I guess some of the diner owners were actually part of those [Facebook] diner groups, so they had ended up recognizing me,” he reveals.
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As for the future of the challenge, Jon and Karri tell PEOPLE they are preparing to sell their home in North Jersey to downsize, and there might be a perk to heading further south in the state.
“It will help with the diner project, sort of on the side, by getting us a little bit closer to those southern ones,” Jon says.
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