Ryan Hidinger and The Giving Kitchen

A supper club. It’s how the seed of a lot of restaurants gets planted — friends cooking for friends. Ryan and Jen Hidinger started theirs with the dream of their restaurant, Staplehouse, already in mind.

They spent a few years saving, pulling money together for the day when they could turn that dream into a reality, with their “Prelude to Staplehouse” dinners. In late 2012, they were close. And then Ryan was diagnosed with Stage IV gall-bladder cancer, which had spread to his liver and his lungs. Life expectancy of this disease, at this stage, is a miserly 2-4%, and a prognosis of about six months to put your affairs in order. On a good day you’d call it “not promising.”

But the Hidingers are fighters. Staplehouse was always going to be locally sourced organic food because that’s what Ryan and Jen do: supporting the region’s farms and farmers. Lifestyle plays a huge part in a patient’s prognosis, and Ryan has taken care to eat right, exercise, be outdoors — and not having to change his lifestyle dramatically gives him a huge advantage in the fight.

Ryan’s health isn’t the mountain anymore. His tumor markers are reducing, which is good news. His health is still a mountain, but not the mountain. Costly medical treatments have all but wiped out the funds the couple had saved for Staplehouse.

Hidinger says “After the diagnosis, Ryan Turner (of Muss and Turner’s) came to me and he said, ‘I need the green light so I can put something together and try to help out.'” What Turner created is Team Hidi, to raise funds to make paying for medical treatments the one thing Jen and Ryan didn’t have to worry about, and to enable the couple to focus on Ryan’s recovery.

The Team Hidi fundraiser in January was a who’s who of Atlanta’s restaurant scene. But people weren’t there to be seen with the right people, or to schmooze and make connections. They were there to support their friends Ryan and Jen, and to find out what else they could do to help.

“The scale of what happened is something I dont think Jen and I were ready for,” admits Ryan. “We had an idea of what to expect, I think, from the Team Hidi event, but when we actually got there it ended up being so much more. I just wasn’t ready for what it was gonna do to me.”

What the Team Hidi event did to Ryan is astounding. “My attachment to this is purely spiritual, it’s a feeling that I need to accomplish this for me. I need this to happen and I need people to get what they need when they’re in need, and more people should. I just finally feel that I’m attached to this more than I ever was to my career.”

So what is “this?”

“This” is The Giving Kitchen, an organization which aims to help members of the Atlanta restaurant community who find themselves faced with sudden and unexpected hardship. Its offices are upstairs at 541 Edgewood Avenue. Downstairs at the same location? Staplehouse, a purpose-driven restaurant whose post-tax profits will be donated to The Giving Kitchen. Ryan Smith, executive chef at Empire State South, and Kari Hidinger from Abattoir, have both announced that they’ll be leaving their current positions by the end of the year to join the Staplehouse team.

Dreams can come true. But sometimes they’re not exactly how we dream them. Sometimes they’re bigger than our imaginations had even dared.

To help make Staplehouse a reality, please click the link and donate whatever you can.

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