When J.D. Adams met Kathleen Kain, it was the beginning of true love.
Yes, they met a few years ago at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. And, all right, they're married now.
But Kathleen (now Adams) also introduced the man she would marry to what appears to be an equally enduring passion: his love of Cheddar's.
"She really started it all," said J.D., who works in logistics at Toyota Tsusho in Georgetown.
Never miss a local story.
The innocent obsession has escalated into a contest between the Scott County couple and J.D.'s parents to see who can visit the most Cheddar's restaurants.
Trips are routed according to Cheddar's locations. Taunts are made using food as a method of communication. There are spreadsheets involved.
It started when Kathleen, now a teacher, took J.D. to the Cheddar's in her hometown, Hendersonville, Tenn. They shared moderately priced appetizers and a variety of generously portioned entrees. They found a place not unlike themselves — comfortable and casual, substantial but not stuffy.
Having met through a campus ministry, they weren't party people. So when college friends might spend their disposable income on beer, they'd take a ride to Cheddar's. It became their thing.
There was no Cheddar's in Knoxville, so a couple times a month they'd go to Cookeville, an hour away. They once left a wedding in North Carolina without eating, opting for a Cheddar's nearby.
As what began as a friendship turned into something more, Kathleen envisioned Cheddar's somehow involved in the wedding.
"Originally, we thought we would have it at Cheddar's," she said.
When the big day finally came March 29, there were too many guests for the space. Instead, the rehearsal dinner featured what Kathleen calls "fancy Cheddar's" — menu favorites including dijon chicken and mushrooms, cut up like hors d'oeuvres and served on platters.
Somewhere along the way, a gastronomical gauntlet was thrown.
J.D. taunted his parents, David and Lee Ann Adams, about the array of Cheddar's restaurants he'd visited. They took up their only child's challenge and made it a point to go to the opening of Cheddar's in Chattanooga. They got their picture taken with Lexington's Phil Greer, who owns 40 Cheddar's restaurants, and the competition was on.
David and Lee Ann Adams drove to Florida for vacation, routing their trip for maximum Cheddar's exposure. They sent good-natured selfies with their ever-rising number scribbled on napkins.
J.D. Adams fired back, routing a 10-day business trip to include a number of Cheddar's. He began to send snapshots of his own featuring his rising totals in numbers made from food: Rib bones and some cubes of vegetables would represent XXV, or 25. Greer posed for and signed a second picture, meant as a gift for J.D.'s parents for their help with the wedding.
J.D. is tracking the contest on a spreadsheet. His multi-restaurant sweep put him in the lead at 26. His parents are stalled at 19.
Kathleen and J.D., both 26, recently started a second challenge. They're taking a picture a day to represent their newly married life. On Friday, they were snapping photos of dining companions.
They were eating, of course, at Cheddar's.