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The woman behind The Tastee Inn & Out counter: Remembering Jean Calligan

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Jean working at the Tastee
Jean as a child on the bar her father owned before the Tastee
Jean receiving her Master’s Degree
Tastee Inn & Out
Courtesy of the Jean Calligan Family
Historic Photo from the 1950’s of the Tastee
Courtesy of the Jean Calligan Family
Cover Story of the Tastee in Iowan Magazine
Jean Calligan and her husband, Dr. Ivan K. Salmons
Jean Calligan
Tastee Inn & Out Sign

SIOUX CITY (KTIV) -- It's been a piece of Sioux City's history for more than 65 years and when you think of a loose meat sandwich, a Tastee may come to mind.

Tastee Inn & Out was one of the first fast-food restaurants in Sioux City starting in 1955. The 50s, a decade marked by the post-World War II boom, and the dawn of the Cold War, came and went. But the Tastee Inn & Out stayed.

Tastee Inn & Out

As did the legacy of the woman who ran it most of her life: Jean Calligan. She passed away on Jan. 6 due to complications from COVID-19 and Pulmonary Sarcoidosis.

"Jean was an amazingly smart woman," said Scott Levy, Tastee Inn & Out Owner, Family Spokesperson.

"An icon of Siouxland." It's the words many people would use about the Tastee Inn & Out as well as Jean Calligan, the woman who ran the restaurant for most of her life. She was just a young girl when her parents Vincent and Marie Calligan started the business in 1955.

"They were entrepreneurs and Vince actually started a tavern, a bar, and then they were looking for something a little different and started the Tastee in 1955," said Levy.

Vince and Marie Calligan

The couple spent most of their days making sure the location on Gordon Drive thrived. So, to make sure Jean saw her parents, she got a job there herself.

"Jean's first gig was standing on orange crates at the age of seven running the cash register," said Levy. "She actually ran the Tastee longer than her parents did."

Jean working at the Tastee

The restaurant, soon became what she knew...teaching her skills she would use to one day run the Tastee Inn & Out herself. After her father died in 1972, she operated it with her mother until Marie passed away in 2009, and by herself until she passed away early last month. But, Jean wasn't just known for her life's work at the Tastee Inn & Out.

"As a child, she was a very well-known figure skater and competed in many competitions regionally and nationally," said Levy.

Jean as a teenager ice skating

Jean was also well known throughout the Siouxland community.

"Had a career at Mid American Energy for a long time as well and her husband Ivan Salmons is a prominent dentist in town as well," said Levy.

Over the year's some things have changed. But, most have not. The neon sign still shines bright along Gordon Drive...

" I think this is the largest neon sign in town," said Levy.

But the main thing that keeps bringing people back, and the reason Siouxlanders tell every newbie in town to head on over: the food.

For more than 65 years, Siouxlanders have been enjoying the iconic food of the Tastee Inn & Out including a Tastee and of course these onion chips.

"There is something about these recipes that were created by Marie Calligan, Jean's mother," said Levy. "The recipes have remained consistent since 1955 and I think that's what makes it special."

Those recipes and of course Jean.

"Her death is very sad for us in the family and she would want the legacy of the Tastee to continue," said Levy. "So Joye her daughter and I are committed to ensuring that the legacy stays strong for years to come."

Jean, her daughter Joye, and her sister Debbie Calligan, at Joye’s wedding

It's that legacy and those memories that keep her family moving forward.

"The Tastee Inn & Out is not just a legacy for the family, but for Sioux City and for generations of people that remember the Tastee, have brought their children and grandchildren to enjoy the quality food that is served here is something very special for the city," said Levy.

So what's the next few years or decades look like for the iconic fast-food restaurant without Jean?

"We hope that it's just like it was in 1955," said Levy. "Serving the same high-quality food with the same recipes, with an amazing staff."

"So if you're a fan of the Tastee Inn and Out, no worries? said Michaela Feldmann.
"No worries at all," said Levy.

One thing that has changed over the years, is of course the price.

Back in the 50s, tastees cost 15 cents, french fries were 15 cents, drinks were 10, and shakes cost 25 cents. You could also pack tastee sandwiches into a hom-pac.

The food itself has inspired not just people, but writing as well. Jean's daughter Joye even went as far as to write a play about the tastee called "Onion Girl". Levy said it won some national awards and was written about in a book called hamburger and fries about 15 years ago.

Michaela Feldmann

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