After Ryan and Jennifer married in 2004, they drove across the country and back, and found themselves in Atlanta with no gas or money, but a place to stay. Hidinger landed a job as a line cook at Bacchanalia, the city’s most prestigious restaurant, and excelled at it. But he later found more of a family at Muss & Turner’s, as well as an understanding boss in Ryan Turner, who let him use the restaurant’s commercial kitchen to prepare food for his supper club.
When Hidinger started working at Muss & Turner’s, it was a well regarded deli that was starting to flirt with full-service dining. Under Hidinger’s leadership, it became a destination for creative comfort food prepared with fine-dining precision. Turner praised Hidinger, citing his leadership for helping the restaurant thrive during the recession.
After working 60 hours or more each week, Hidinger joined Jennifer to entertain 10 paying guests in their home every Sunday at the supper club they called Prelude to Staplehouse. Tickets to these prix fixe dinners sold out within minutes — sometimes seconds — online. Despite the warm embrace of the dining public, lenders were not forthcoming when the Hidingers tried to the turn the supper club into a bricks-and-mortar restaurant.
After the cancer diagnosis, Turner helped the Hidingers brainstorm a plan to turn the dream of Staplehouse into a reality. It would serve as the calling card for the Giving Kitchen Initiative. All of the restaurant's profits would flow into the nonprofit entity, which would then provide assistance to restaurant and hospitality workers facing catastrophic illness. Traditionally, restaurant workers are among the most under-insured employees in the country and the most likely to suffer from lost wages.
Thanks to help from the nonprofit consultancy Coxe Curry and the restaurant architecture and design firm Square Feet Studio, among other benefactors, The Giving Kitchen Initiative and Staplehouse have come further, faster than anyone could have predicted. There is now a building in the Old Fourth Ward and a star chef in Ryan Smith, who is engaged to Hidinger’s sister, Kara. Several cancer and accident victims have already received support from the organization. Staplehouse is on track for a spring opening.
The Hidingers spent the year sharing their exhilarations and heartbreaks with as much openness as they shared their home. Jennifer’s email updates kept a growing circle of friends and fans in the loop as Hidinger attempted different regimens of chemotherapy, traveled to visit family, celebrated birthdays in high style and then accepted the end game with grace.
In the end, Hidinger did get Atlanta. Funding for Staplehouse was provided largely by a consortium of the biggest restaurant groups in the city. They came to see what Hidinger did, that good restaurants are all about good people.
Team Hidi 2.0
Benefit for The Giving Kitchen will include 30 restaurants and farmers.
4 p.m. Jan. 26. King Plow Arts Center. 887 West Marietta Street. N.W., Atlanta. www.thegivingkitchen.org