Staplehouse embarks on new era

The interior of Staplehouse is getting revamped to serve as a market. / AJC file photo

Credit: AJC file photo

Credit: AJC file photo

Old Fourth Ward restaurant breaks ties with nonprofit Giving Kitchen, shifts from fine-dining to market

Staplehouse and the Giving Kitchen have operated in tandem since 2015, when the for-profit restaurant opened as a subsidiary of the nonprofit organization that aids food service workers in crisis.

In August, that relationship ended. Staplehouse chef Ryan Smith and his wife, Kara Hidinger, bought the historic brick storefront in Old Fourth Ward, where they plan to open a neighborhood market offering prepared foods to-go.

According to Smith, they’d been in discussions with the Giving Kitchen board for about a year, before finally setting a date for the buyout.

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Kara Hidinger runs Staplehouse with her chef-husband Ryan Smith. The restaurant reopened for takeout in mid-July. CONTRIBUTED BY LIGAYA FIGUERAS

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

“Oddly enough, we were supposed to close on the deal on March 17,” Smith said. “On March 15, all hell broke loose, and we basically called the bank and said we needed to hit the pause button. From there, we went on with pandemic life.”

During the early days of the pandemic, Staplehouse operated as a soup kitchen, helping feed unemployed food-service workers in partnership with the Giving Kitchen.

After that initiative concluded, Smith and Hidinger decided to take some time off to be with their children, and plan the family’s future. As the months passed, they began to think about what Staplehouse had been, and how it could be different in response to the pandemic.

“We thought about the market idea, and we called the Giving Kitchen, and told them we wanted to pick back up on the conversation,” Smith said. “I think they were excited about that, because they had a huge liability on their hands, and if we walked away, they’d be screwed. It turned out to make sense for everybody, and we decided to move forward.”

Staplehouse offers a $25 prix fixe takeout dinner Thursdays-Sundays. The menu changes weekly. LIGAYA FIGUERAS/LIGAYA.FIGUERAS@AJC.COM

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

The magnitude of the change stems from Staplehouse’s origins, and how quickly it became a buzzing fine dining destination, winning awards, including Bon Appetit’s best new restaurant of 2016, and making Smith a reluctant star.

It began with Muss & Turner’s chef Ryan Hidinger and his wife, Jen, who dreamed of opening their own restaurant. To promote it, they hosted a series of Sunday suppers at their home, called Prelude to Staplehouse. One of those evenings, Smith met Hidinger’s sister, Kara. When they tied the knot, the two Ryans became in-laws.

In 2012, Hidinger was diagnosed with a rare late-stage cancer. The Atlanta restaurant community responded with a magnanimous fundraiser, dubbed “Team Hidi.” It led to the founding of the Giving Kitchen.

During his battle with cancer, Hidinger saw both Staplehouse and the Giving Kitchen take shape. The two Ryans had planned to work together as co-chefs, but Hidinger’s death in 2014 left Smith as the restaurant’s executive chef when it launched in 2015, with Kara and Jen working the front of the house. The latter has since departed to work full-time with the Giving Kitchen.

The pandemic prompted the recent round of changes at Staplehouse. In late July, it reopened for takeout, with a menu that included smoked brisket and pork, heirloom corn tortillas, house-made salsas, and vegetable sides. In late August, the restaurant closed to reconfigure the space for a market setting scheduled to debut later this month.

Going forward, the menu will be similar to the August takeout offerings, but with more options.

“We’re not opening a barbecue restaurant. We’re not opening a taqueria,” Smith said. "But we’re trying to pay homage to both of those things and incorporate them together because they work really well together. We’re going to focus on brisket and other cuts as we grow, and then we’re going to dive deeper into masa.

“We ordered a grinder so that we can start nixtamalizing here and really going down the rabbit hole. We’ll still have a very strong vegetable presence on the menu. That’s something we’ve really enjoyed exploring a lot. We may eventually do some baked goods. And we’re thinking about doing some charcuterie.”

Further explaining the idea behind the re-imagined Staplehouse, Smith said the changes were for personal reasons as much as practical ones.

“We wanted to create a business where we could have personal flexibility with time, and that was sustainable,” he said. “But we have the space, so that if we ever want to do little dinners upstairs once a week, then we can do that. It’s still Staplehouse. And the name Staplehouse makes so much sense for a marketplace. It’s staples for your house."

For its part, the Giving Kitchen posted the news on its website, stating: “We’re excited to announce that Giving Kitchen has sold Staplehouse to Kara Hidinger and Ryan Smith, who have shaped Staplehouse’s growth since day one.”

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