All memorable stories, written or otherwise, are filled with turning points. Moments when the next step becomes unmistakably clear. Moments when life’s twists and turns, wins and losses, hopes and heartbreaks, serve up the next chapter.
A few moments for Sarah Baker Hansen and Matthew Hansen defined not only their life together, but also their life’s work. Today, they are a literary power couple, both writing prominent columns for the Omaha World-Herald.
Their pivotal moment together took a while, more than five years after their first date. The couple met in 2000 while working at The Daily Nebraskan, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s student newspaper. Although they acted friendly to each other, a relationship was far from their minds.
Their first official date wouldn’t happen for another year. It was 2001. Sarah had since graduated from college and was living back home in Omaha following an internship at the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Matthew was finishing up his studies at UNL. A 100-year reunion for The Daily Nebraskan was near, which meant Matthew might see Sarah soon.
“A fellow DN staffer said Sarah had a crush on me years earlier, so then I started emailing her,” Matthew recalls with a smile.
Emails were exchanged, and a little bit of flirting even took place. Sarah missed the reunion, but Matthew eventually asked her out.
Sarah chose the French Café, one of her favorite Old Market eateries. It would become the same spot where Matthew would propose to Sarah, and a venue that would emphasize their vastly different backgrounds.
“I was a dorky, small town sports guy,” says Matthew, a native of Red Cloud.
Matthew found Sarah’s Omaha roots, her affinity for food, and her love of art and culture attractive. But such interest was also met with some trepidation that evening. On their first date, Matthew recalls having a “very quiet, very polite panic attack around the idea of ordering a drink. We sat at the French Café bar. I never had a cocktail that was fancier than Jack and Coke.”
Sarah had already developed an adventurous palate: “I grew up with parents who were foodies before that was a thing. They had these really elaborate dinner parties in the 1980s, and it was a real treat for me to stay up and eat the pâté, watch my dad make the chocolate mousse. And the Cornish hens. And the bone-in pork rib roast with the booties.”
Sarah and Matthew’s first date at the French Café lumbered on somewhat awkwardly. A few days later, Matthew phoned Sarah for a second date. She passed, suggesting that the two remain just friends.
Fast forward five years. Sarah and her sister were in Lincoln at Duffy’s Tavern for a concert. She went for the live music—and to meet a new guy.
Matthew got there first.
The two chatted, catching up over the past five years. The new guy eventually showed up…with another girl in tow. Matthew, Sarah, and their mutual friends made their way to O’Rourke’s Tavern. They talked the whole night.
It was then that Sarah trusted her gut: she offered Matthew her phone number. “That night in Lincoln, there was definitely a connection,” Sarah says.
The following week, the two were practically inseparable. About a year later, they were living together in Omaha.
“We were just entirely comfortable with each other from that day forward,” Sarah explains.
They were engaged in 2008 and married in 2009. This fall marks 10 years since that fateful second date.
Matthew worked previously at the Lincoln Journal Star, while Sarah held public relations posts at the Nebraska Tourism Commission and the Sheldon Museum of Art. Years of freelancing for The Reader and writing her first book, The Insider’s Guide to Omaha and Lincoln, laid the groundwork for her position at the Omaha World-Herald. And traveling Nebraska for her tourism work yielded something else entirely unexpected.
“Working in PR at the state tourism office allowed me to understand Matthew a bit more,” Sarah says. “I didn’t know much about Nebraska. The first time I went to Red Cloud with Matthew was the first time I was ever on a farm. That changed me in a lot of ways.”
Matthew said he was changed not only by moving to Omaha, but by becoming immersed in local art and food alongside Sarah. He’s involved with Hear Nebraska, founded by Sarah’s UNL classmate Andrew Norman. And Red Cloud left its mark on Sarah; she now serves on the Willa Cather Foundation Board of Governors.
The couple can often be spotted at La Buvette, one of their most beloved Old Market establishments, talking about the newspaper industry, reality television, the Chicago Cubs, or their latest meal. As downtown Omaha residents for the past several years, they have found comfort in their urban neighborhood, walking to and from work together each day. They often explore of the greater metro area through restaurants that Sarah is assigned to cover. (Yes, in many cases, Matthew is her plus one.)
There was a time not too long ago when Matthew and Sarah found themselves at a bar in New York City. An opportunity presented itself that would have allowed the couple to pack their things, their roots, and their cat for new lives in the Big Apple.
“We could do this,” Sarah recalls, weighing their options. “We could do this and be happy and successful (in New York City). But we could do things that are meaningful in Omaha, that have a real impact.”
Together, they returned to Omaha. During the following year, Matthew was named an Omaha World-Herald columnist. Sarah was hired as the paper’s food critic.
“We said, let’s try to do something impactful to this place where we’re choosing to be, that we care so much about,” she says. “I feel that’s the path we chose to take.
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