We’ve been friends with the Hidingers and have been following their journey for years, so it only made sense to chat with Jen Hidinger about the recent opening of the restaurant Staplehouse. Located in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward neighborhood, the restaurants donates all profit to The Giving Kitchen, providing emergency assistance grants for Atlanta area restaurant workers facing an unanticipated hardship.
Staplehouse opened it’s doors in September 2015, however the name Staplehouse is not new; it started in January 2009 with the Hidingers' first supper club dinner. Guests were willing to go to a stranger’s house in a neighborhood that was kind of "transitional", eating a 5-course meal that they didn’t have any say on and donating money in exchange for the services. A concept almost unheard of that led to something rather remarkable. After years of “dreamstate” which consisted of about a year of city turmoil in 2013 and 2014 during Jen’s late husband Ryan’s cancer battle and about 8 months of construction. The restaurant feels just like home from the moment you walk in through the garage rather than the front door. The names of Indigogo contributors, who helped raise almost $100K for the restaurant, are visible on the bricks in the patio and barstools as promised. “It really is inviting people over, allowing them to trust us and having them leave very happy, so they come back a hundred times,” Jen tells us.
The restaurant is now managed by Jen Hidinger, her late husband Ryan Hidinger's sister Kara and Kara’s husband Ryan Smith. While it can be challenging to work with family members, there’s also “an incredibly interesting dynamic” between the three of them. “The fact that we all have (Ryan) Hidinger as an inspiration is our most important connector point, and there isn’t much that can floor us," Jen says. "We’re going to make it work. This is food and beverage, and this is all for a way bigger reason." In addition to connection and inspiration, the three of them provide their own strengths, teach each other and lean on one another. “The amount of energy that’s put in here by the three of us and our entire staff is nothing short of awe-inspiring,” Jen says.
Chef Ryan Smith wanted to execute the Hidinger legacy alive by creating the dinner supper club concept within the restaurant. According to Jen, it "ultimately provides an organized sense of control; it’s us understanding how many guests are coming in a night, so we’re able to calculate our labor and food costs ahead of time, which is actually one of the smartest business models.” However, the concept didn’t get the expected response despite the Atlanta community’s continued support for the Hidingers. “We take full blame and recognize that it could have been too much too soon,” Jen says. Now, Staplehouse is offering two menus, a tasting menu which requires a prepayment as well as an a la carte menu. “I do believe 100% that Atlanta is ready for this kind of dining; it’s just a slow start," she tells us. "It’s taken the six months to really truly honor our trust, and we talk about it every night with our guests.”
The farm-to-table menu changes very regularly, driven primarily by farmers and product availability. There are subtle variations daily with more complete full-rounded changes every couple of weeks. According to Jen, "the kitchen, the tireless work that goes on in there – labor of love is exactly what it is.”
Despite the hard work that goes on, it’s Jen’s ever-changing inspiration that keeps everything moving. “For a long time it was about seeing this dream fulfilled and honoring and wanting to complete something for my late husband but also for myself,” Jen tells us. She describes Ryan’s death as "instrumental" to her life, as it has allowed her to learn about her own independence apart from their partnership. Additionally, the continuation to pay it forward inspires her. “What the community did to support us in our time of need has physically, emotionally and spiritually, completely and utterly changed my perception of humanity, and it is absolutely my driving force,” Jen says. Teamwork, camaraderie, compromise, it’s these kinds of intangible items that inspire Jen on a daily basis.
Moving forward, Staplehouse is looking to grow. The upcoming spring and summer seasons could lead to experimenting with experiences, such as bocce ball outside, occasional barbeque parties or simply an energetic and full patio. According to Jen, Staplehouse is "on the cusp of seeing what this space can really hold for its guests as an experience"; she doesn't think the space has seen it’s full capacity yet. As for Jen personally, she’s looking forward to sharing Staplehouse’s story along with hopes and dreams through speaking engagements. “Presenting this to people who don’t know about us is incredibly important and a reminder to put faith in humanity," she says. "We all have the opportunity to do something really special with ourselves; it all comes down to empowerment.”
PHOTOS BY ANDREW THOMAS LEE