There’s more to Atlanta's top restaurant than the delicious seasonal food they're serving. We caught up with Jen Hidinger, the restauranteur behind Staplehouse, a neighborhood joint with an inspiring story and do-good mission.
Tell us about your restaurant.
Staplehouse is a casual neighborhood restaurant located in the heart of Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward. Our menu changes regularly based on seasonality, the mood of the kitchen, and what our farmers have available. We are a for-profit subsidiary of The Giving Kitchen, a nonprofit organization serving our restaurant community.
What inspired you to create Staplehouse?
At first, it was about opening a restaurant – a difficult prospect in any environment. And then cancer came into the fold and made the prospects even harder. What happened next showed the true power of community, specifically, the Atlanta restaurant community. It's a story about rallying around one in need and then turning that rally into one that, in turn, supports others in need throughout the very same community. The restaurant did indeed open, but it opened in service of a bigger cause, The Giving Kitchen.
2009 was the year my husband, Ryan, and I introduced our underground supper club called Prelude to Staplehouse, our first step towards running our own restaurant. We had full-time jobs and spent countless hours creating. We hosted ten guests at a time in our home every Sunday night on Ryan’s one day off from his full-time restaurant job and the only day we could pull it off each week. Every Thursday morning I would email the “season-driven” menu and “mood of the kitchen” to friends and contacts. After a few weeks, our dinners were selling out within minutes. It was all we talked about, all we lived. So we built a business plan, searched for spaces, and met with banks to build our dream. And then everything changed.
On December 21, 2012 — the end of the world as the Mayans had stated — Ryan was diagnosed with stage-four gallbladder cancer. He was 35. Doctors gave him six months. Our fire could have been out forever; reinforcements by way of family, friends, and supporters came flooding in. Reinforcements that, after Ryan’s cancer diagnosis, proved even more formidable than we realized. Ryan’s bosses and business mentors came to our rescue and said, “let us help,” so we did. They pulled off a fundraiser that we called “Team Hidi,” (“Hidi” is short for our last name, and the only notable way for me to get Ryan’s attention in a crowd full of people). Less than four weeks after that devastating news arrived, our fire was lit again as the Atlanta culinary community raised more than $275,000 for us in one single, magical night. We were blown away. Encouraged. Uplifted. Inspired.
That $275,000 was way more than we ever needed. So, with the encouragement and leadership from our mentors, we decided to start a not-for-profit to pay it forward, assisting other people in the restaurant industry who were facing crises, medical or otherwise. We called it The Giving Kitchen.
As The Giving Kitchen was founded, we realized that our dream restaurant could be redefined as a restaurant with purpose. We decided to turn it into a for-profit subsidiary of the new charity, The Giving Kitchen, with all of our restaurant’s net profits benefiting our non-profit parent. Our hope that Staplehouse could be a beacon of light and hope illuminated the mission of The Giving Kitchen even further.
What did you do before this?
I was a children’s boutique retail manager. Marketing and advertising account coordinator. Supportive wife. Incessant nester.
Who benefits from your work?
Since The Giving Kitchen’s inception, we’ve awarded over $1 million to more than 650 members of our restaurant community.
What's challenging about the people you work with?
I am in partnership with my late husband’s younger sister and her husband, so we’re family. They challenge me daily in a way that keeps me growing. We work closely with our staff as a full team. It’s an all-hands-on-deck type of operation. It’s a constant wave of emotion to stay inspired and motivated, but the benefit of serving others is received a hundred times over when the moment is just right … the moment when they feel on top of the world and treated as family. That makes our jobs pretty amazing.
Describe a favorite moment.
I remember a night when we were first opened. I was standing at the host stand, welcoming our guests in, and had stepped away for a brief moment. I came back to a woman crying. She had been looking around at the energy of the space and was simply standing there, crying. I made eye contact immediately and asked her name. She looked at me and said, you don't know me, but I have been waiting years to get here. I followed your Prelude series, your Small Batch offerings, your cancer battle with Ryan, the launch of The Giving Kitchen, and now I'm here. She said, "I had cancer and beat it. This story was my inspiration." I came from around our host stand and just hugged her. Then I showed her to her table.
Has starting your restaurant changed the way you think about charity and helping others?
Absolutely. We are in the industry of service, and the idea and definition of what service means to me has vastly changed.
What's your advice for entrepreneurs who want their businesses to have an aspect of global giving?
Give back in opportunities that feel right to you. Whether they are big or small, the impact is always greater than you realize.
541 Edgewood Ave.
Atlanta, Georgia 30312