Chef Ryan Hidinger and his lovely wife, Jen, hosted a serious supper club, planning to open their own restaurant one day. Just as those dreams started to take shape, that Mayan apocalypse slammed right into them — 12/21/12, the date Ryan received a Stage 4 gallbladder cancer diagnosis. Support rallied around the couple as they managed the illness and treatments, all championing Team HIDI’s valiant battle. Ryan sadly succumbed to the cancer in January 2014, yet through his struggle The Giving Kitchen was born, a nonprofit providing support at times of unanticipated crisis to anyone working in the Atlanta restaurant community. As co-founder and spokesperson for The Giving Kitchen, Jen now sees their dream restaurant realized: Staplehouse opens soon in Old Fourth Ward. All of its net profits will go to sustaining The Giving Kitchen, which will have its offices upstairs from the restaurant space. We met up with Jen, this week’s FACE, in the future Staplehouse location.
When you were a little girl, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be a farmer (I’m from Indiana) and wanted to grow corn and tomato soup.
Think back a bit. What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
Funny. I had already met and fallen in love with Ryan by the time I was 18 … I was young! I think I’d tell myself that I would turn into a woman who would be incredibly proud of herself and would be blessed with wealth far beyond monetary value. I would tell myself to remain patient and not to forget that life is very, very short. We are only a blip in time, and we are meant to do great things.
As you’ve traveled this journey the last few years, what have you learned about yourself that has been most surprising?
My patience and resilience have grown insurmountably. I used to be an extreme case of “fix it now,” but as I’ve grown, I understand that anything long lasting and worthwhile takes time and complete surrender. My late husband helped teach this to me.
If you had a cartoon alter ego who would it be?
Speedy Gonzales! “Andale andale, arriba arriba!”
You and Ryan started planning a restaurant years ago. How’d you decide on the name Staplehouse?
Concepting the name began November or December of 2008. For weeks, we had been throwing out names that we liked, a lot that reminded us of home (we both grew up in Indianapolis). During a date night, we landed on the name Staplehouse (originally “Staple House,” two words) with “Staple” meaning something you love (items, things, food, drink), and “House” being the place you go to get them or feel comfortable receiving them. Since we started a supper club out of our home, calling it Staplehouse was quite fitting.
Imagine Staplehouse serving up the Ryan Special. What’s on that menu?
Chicken wings, of course! Ryan was an incredibly talented chef. He focused heavily on finesse and simplicity. Any of Ryan’s menus left you inspired creatively and also left you satisfied and never overwhelmed.
To say that The Giving Kitchen has taken off would be a vast understatement. Explain the basic concept.
The intent of The Giving Kitchen is to be the beyond-expectation resource at times of unanticipated crisis for anyone employed in the Atlanta restaurant community. Peace of mind that we are a stronger, beloved community is the outcome we hope to create.
How do you define the word gratitude?
This is difficult, because my life has completely changed due to the support and outpouring of love that Ryan and I received when he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer in late December 2012. Gratitude is a powerful connection between immense, indebted thankfulness and the desire to pay it forward. Gratitude isn’t just a noun or a feeling; it’s an action of doing unto others as you would have done unto you.
You’ve been surrounded by incredible chefs for quite awhile now. What’s your guilty pleasure/junk food splurge?
What’s your favorite vacation spot or your fantasy travel location?
I’ve been fortunate in my life to travel a good bit. I’m half-Spanish, so I’ve been to Spain many times to visit family. I studied in Australia during college. I’ve been to Canada and the Caribbean during my young adult life. A highlight for me was participating in a volunteer work trip in Cameroon, Africa, earlier this year. I would love to go to Hawaii, Brazil and practically anywhere in Europe!
Name the last film or TV show that made you laugh out loud.
The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon!
What book do you most often recommend or gift to people?
What’s on your bedside table?
Best Food Writing 2014. Our friend John Kessler has an article he wrote on us last year published in it! A pretty big deal!
Name three things you just cannot live without — other than faith, family and friends.
My iPhone, a Pilot G2-10 pen and mascara.
Jen, thank you for showing us around the future Staplehouse space and for sharing your joyful energy. We’re humbled by your strength and empowered by your mission. Go Team Hidi!
Throughout the month of October, Atlanta is invited to participate in The Giving Kitchen’s Multiply Joy campaign. For 31 days, 31 area restaurants will offer diners the opportunity to add to their receipts donation amounts benefiting The Giving Kitchen’s grant program. Look for #TGK and #TeamHidi events all around the Metro Atlanta culinary community.
Once again we thank Catrina Maxwell of Cat Max Photography for these beautiful images.
Want to read about more inspiring local women? Check out the FACES archives.