From running two wildly successful local restaurants and advocating for local charities to hosting extensive fundraising dinners with her celebrity chef husband and launching her own line of natural dog treats, Idie Hastings uses her culinary skills and business acumen to enrich Birmingham’s cultural and philanthropic fabric. The joy she gets in seeing her customers slow down and enjoy fabulous food and fellowship is eclipsed only by her pride in her sons and her love for her dogs. We are so pleased to welcome today’s FACE of Birmingham, Idie Hastings!
Where did you grow up and, if you are not a Birmingham native, what brought you to Birmingham?
I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and I came to Birmingham to pursue a criminal justice and psychology degree at UAB.
How did you get your start in the culinary world?
I have always loved to cook, and while living with roommates, I would always have an assortment of Italian food around the house. It was actually a roommate that suggested I should pursue the culinary field. So after UAB, I attended the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco and worked at Jeremiah Tower’s Stars Restaurant and Wolfgang Puck’s Postrio.
What are your earliest memories in the kitchen?
I remember hanging around the apron strings of my grandmother and watching her make homemade pasta and meatballs, breads, cookies and soups, all recipes from her hometown of Calabria, Italy. My mother suffered from multiple sclerosis and was not able to take care of me, so I lived with her (my grandmother) for the first six years of my life. She had a profound influence on me. She and my father both loved to cook, and they were such wise souls.
What are your favorite dishes?
Some of my favorite dishes are spaghetti and meatballs, homemade breads fresh from the oven with butter and a great oxtail soup. For dessert, anything chocolate. I am a chocoholic!
In addition to yours and your husband’s popular restaurant, Hot and Hot Fish Club, you’ve recently opened OvenBird at Pepper Place. Tell us about the concept behind this new eatery.
For me, the OvenBird concept came to light after a trip to Argentina. We spent a week fly-fishing in Arroyo Verde and toured Buenos Aires with a local couple to experience the art, the tango, the food and their entire culture. We spent time dining in the open fields with the gauchos cooking the most amazing food. I also fell in love with the vibrant colors of Argentina — the burnt oranges, reds, pinks and blues. So I wanted to replicate that experience in Birmingham.
What is it like working with your husband?
Working with my husband can be joyful and challenging all in the same day! We have worked together for 20 years. The joyful part is that we share the same thoughts on how to run a business. We are yin and yang. We know what the other is thinking. The challenge is that we can get too absorbed in work and not take enough time for ourselves.
Tell us about your new line of dog treats, Miss Coco’s One Lucky Dog Treats. Where does the inspiration for your dog snacks come from?
The inspiration for this company actually comes from my beloved dog, Miss Belle, who passed away from a brain tumor. After her death, I put the dog treat business aside for a few years. Then my rescue dog, Coco Chanel, came into my life. When I was ready, I decided to rename the company after her. We make natural dog treats with no preservatives. For the peanut butter biscuits, our peanut butter is ground daily, and the granola bars are gluten-free and contain chia seeds.
You’re also heavily involved with several charities around town, including Hand in Paw, the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center and Children’s Harbor. Tell us about your involvement with these initiatives.
Well, I have a funny story about Hand in Paw. I decided that Miss Belle would make a great Hand in Paw dog, because everyone that ever met her said that she was the perfect dog. She was about 10 years old when I made this decision. So Hand in Paw requires that your dog pass a test. To my shock, Miss Belle flunked because she was only comfortable with me. They said she was too nervous around other people. I love what Hand in Paw stands for, and when they asked me to be on the board, I jumped at the chance.
And as for the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center, I can’t say enough about this board. It is truly the best group of people that I have had the pleasure of serving with, and they don’t come any better than the director, Dr. Edward E. Partridge. I never got to meet my mother-in-law due to breast and liver cancer. After a tour of the Cancer Center with Dolly O’Neal (the late center director of development), I knew I was in the right place.
And then, Ben and Lee-Ann Russell of Russell Lands have been so good to us, and their philanthropic reach is so generous. When we made the decision to be a part of Lake Martin, we offered to donate an annual dinner in support of Children’s Harbor. That dinner grows larger each year and supports some magical moments for children in need.
What do you and your husband cook when you’re at home?
We don’t cook anything fancy at home. It’s all about the basics. A favorite is baked chicken with vegetables and potatoes. On a cold winter Sunday, I will make a nice oxtail soup.
What are you most proud of?
Honestly, I am most proud of my sons. Having my sons grow up to be productive, Christian men has been so important and meaningful to me. I work with so many young people, and the pressures of society and the state of our country is a lot for them to deal with compared to how I grew up. On the business side, I am proud that we recently celebrated 20 years at the Hot and Hot Fish Club.
What do you like to do when you’re not at the restaurants?
I like to stay at our lake house, hang out with our dogs and travel with my family. I also like to read and practice yoga.
Do you have a mentor or role model?
I try to model myself after my dad. I may not always be successful, but the thought of him brings me back to my center.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Every frustration is an opportunity for innovation.
If you weren’t in the restaurant industry, what career would you choose?
I would own and operate a dog food company. Secretly, I hope I still get to do this.
What is something people might be surprised to know about you?
Well, back in the day, I loved to camp. I’m talking carrying my tent, backpack and food into the woods. The Sipsey Wilderness and the Walls of Jericho are two of my favorite places. On one of our first dates, I took Chris to the Sipsey River, and we cooked a whole chicken over a fire. He complained that I should have bought the chicken cut up, not whole, so it would cook faster. My response was, “What’s the hurry? We’re here all night.”
What are your must-have style staples?
My must-have style staples are a tube of lipstick, a pair of black pants that fit very well and are very comfy, and sunglasses, because I am light-sensitive.
Name three frivolous or lighthearted things you can’t live without.
Icebox Coffee in the morning, Coco Chanel, my sidekick who goes everywhere with me, and chocolate!
Thank you, Idie! Learn more about Idie Hastings’ restaurants, the award-winning Hot and Hot Fish Club and the new OvenBird restaurant at Pepper Place. And check out Miss Coco’s One Lucky Dog Treats at oneluckydogtreats.com.
And thank you to Brendon Pinola for the fabulous pictures of Idie and Miss Coco at OvenBird!
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