By Clare S. Richie
Serious injury or illness can overtake our lives with pain, panic and treatment, but also push us to focus on who and what are truly important. A case in point, local chef Ryan Hidinger re-purposed his aspirations after his car accident and recent stage IV gallbladder cancer diagnosis. Both adversities led Ryan and his wife Jen to pursue their dream restaurant, Staplehouse, which will donate all after-tax profits to support members of the restaurant community in their time of need.
In August 2008, a severe car accident knocked Ryan out of work for eight weeks. “During my rehabilitation, I started moving in the direction of opening my own place,” Ryan recalled.
His initial concept for Staplehouse was casual fine dining with small plates for sharing made from fresh local ingredients served in an environment that made you feel at home. Not too far from their Grant Park home, Ryan and Jen found the perfect Old Fourth Ward building, but the timing wasn’t right.
Relatively new to Atlanta, the seasoned chef decided to spend more time building his reputation. “Prelude to Staplehouse,” Atlanta’s first underground supper club was born. For the next four years, Ryan and Jen welcomed 10 strangers into their home each week for a unique five-course meal dining experience. The menu was influenced by locally grown food, the changing seasons, and Ryan’s mood.
“The supper club was an opportunity for us to be intimate and vulnerable – sharing our food in our home,” Jen said. After the first invitation, dinners sold out by word of mouth. Many diners became investors in the envisioned “bricks and mortar” restaurant.
Jen and Ryan were in striking distance of their dream when cancer made an unexpected visit. Last New Year’s Eve, Ryan received confirmation of his cancer diagnosis. The supper club stopped. Aggressive treatment started. The dream of opening Staplehouse stalled. Ryan and Jen decided to share his story publicly and once again allowed themselves to be “intimate and vulnerable.” The restaurant community responded big time.
Within one month, “Team Hidi,” led by some of Ryan’s business partners – Ryan Turner, Chris Hall, Todd Mussman and others – organized a fundraiser attended by 800 people that raised $200,000 for Ryan’s mounting medical expenses. “We were overwhelmed by the scale and support of the community,” Ryan reflected.
With the encouragement of family, friends and business partners, Ryan renewed his dream of opening Staplehouse, but with a new purpose. “This is now about more than food, more than us,” Ryan explained. When Staplehouse opens, hopefully with a New Year’s Eve toast, all profits after payroll and taxes will be donated to The Giving Kitchen Initiative.
A visit to the Staplehouse website is also a testament to community support: listed on the homepage are hundreds of “founding members” who have donated time and money to the project.
This is Ryan’s medicine – the unwavering commitment of business partners and investors, finally securing the originally sought location at 541 Edgewood Avenue, architect Square Feet Studio and contractors donating their services to convert the building to a restaurant, cards from well wishers that line his home’s shotgun hallway and overflow in baskets, chemotherapy and surgery, and the will to pursue his dream with Jen.
Ryan’s doctors are amazed at his progress but his and Jen’s “do good – be good” approach to life is healing for all of us.
For more about Staplehouse or to make a donation to the restaurant, visit staplehouse.com.