Staplehouse offers important life lesson: Mourn, then move on

The other day, I happened to catch Terry Gross’ interview with comedian Jeff Ross on NPR’s “Fresh Air.” I tuned in around the time that Ross divulged that both of his parents died when he was a teenager. “We’re made to mourn and then move on,” he said.

Sage words, I thought.

Ever wanting for someone else’s life lessons to apply to my own world, I thought of Staplehouse. It’s a place where great pain has been transferred into great heights, where a sense of purpose permeates the dining room, bar, kitchen, meat smoking shed, outdoor patio, everywhere …

If you are unaware of Staplehouse, here is the condensed story: Staplehouse is an Atlanta restaurant, located at 541 Edgewood Ave., in the Old Fourth Ward. It just celebrated its first anniversary. In its initial 12 months of operation, Staplehouse has won so many accolades, it’s surreal. It garnered best new restaurant honors from Bon Appetit, GQ and Eater. It was in the running for that same title from the James Beard Foundation. Likewise, its executive chef, Ryan Smith, got a Beard nomination for best chef in the Southeast region.

All of these successes happened after something very tragic occurred. One of the originators of this concept, the person who was also to be its chef, died of cancer before the restaurant ever opened. His name was Ryan Hidinger. He and his wife, Jen, worked to raise funds to open Staplehouse through pop-up dinners they held in their own home. Numerous other philanthropic efforts helped to turn a concept that was birthed in 2009 into a reality in 2015. That’s more than six years of sweat and tears. Especially tears.

Here is where I want to pause and ask you, what makes you cry right now? What is your deepest pain? If we were all sitting together in some therapy session, I imagine we’d all have a personal problem to share.

I could start off the discussion by saying how much I despise living with rheumatoid arthritis; that, among all of its junky side effects, the hardest for me is mentally preparing for that day when my joints no longer can handle exercise, especially a game of soccer. Soccer is as much a part of my being as eating and sleeping. I love being a wife and a mother, yet the Beautiful Game and my teammates also help me feel whole. Why can’t my body move like it used to, damn it?

My woe is stupidly minor compared with the person next to me who might talk about an addiction of some sort. Perhaps another in the room has a family member or a friend in hospice care or suffering from terminal cancer. Death and dying, I’ll bet, would surface a lot.

The point: We all have problems, pains, sorrows. They are all valid. We should grieve and mourn for what once was. Then, as Jeff Ross said, it’s time to move on.

And the folks at Staplehouse are a model for how to move on.

When Ryan Hidinger died, no one called a halt on plans to open a restaurant. They forged ahead, with conviction and a little — no, a lot — of help from their friends.

The day in early January that my 3-star review of Staplehouse was published, I got a call from a fellow by the name of Chris Hall. He was calling to say thank you for the positive review. I’d only been living in this city for four months, so, at that time, I didn’t understand why he cared.

Hall cared, I learned, because, like so many others in Atlanta’s restaurant industry, he is a stakeholder in the success of Staplehouse. The restaurant’s profits go to support the Giving Kitchen, a one-of-a-kind nonprofit that offers monetary assistance to people in this city’s hospitality industry during their times of crisis. Hall is among a handful of people who founded the Giving Kitchen (he is also a chef and partner in restaurants Local Three, Muss & Turners and Common Quarter). But, considering the mission of Staplehouse, any Atlanta-area restaurateur would want to see this place succeed because of whom it serves.

It’s not just Hall who feels passionate about Staplehouse. That place makes a lot of people emotional. When I asked Wyatt Williams to review the restaurant, he recused himself. For the life of me, I wished my predecessor, John Kessler, could just be back in Atlanta to tackle the review.

Ah, it’s never that easy.

I had no ties. And, in the end, it’s for the better. During the phase when I was reviewing Staplehouse, I purposely did not read Kessler’s moving Personal Journey of Ryan Hidinger, nor anything else written about the long-awaited restaurant. Better to go in unbiased, unmoved.

The moving part about Staplehouse is that you can be impacted there by the dining experience alone. Knowing its story, though, brings with it much more. For me, its story brings reassurance. It is possible to turn yesterday’s sorrow into today’s triumphs.

So, what’s aching your heart? What problem brings you to tears?

Go ahead and cry about it. Mourn what once was.

But, then, like the folks at Staplehouse, move on.

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