Miracle. It’s a word you hear a lot when you sit and talk with the talent-stacked team creating the upcoming Staplehouse restaurant – one that promises to truly be unlike any other out there. As their story unfolds, you realize they may use that word miracle frequently, but never flippantly.
It all started back in 2009 when Ryan Hidinger, while cooking at Muss & Turners, started a dinner club with his wife, Jen. “The goal with the supper club was always to open a restaurant, but it was more daunting than we thought,” says Ryan. But as they cooked most weekends, testing out dishes for friends and strangers, things started to look more promising. “Turner [of Muss & Turners] was a huge mentor and an open book in helping us create our dream. That level of support from another restaurant is nearly unheard of in our industry.”
Location, banks, investors, experts – it was all coming together until December 21, 2012 – a day Ryan and Jen will never forget. Ryan was diagnosed with stage 4 gallbladder cancer and given six months to live. Everything came crashing down, putting life and priorities in a new perspective.
But while the couple focused all their time on treatment centers and gearing up for an all-out battle with cancer, a groundswell of local support was about to erupt. “It started with a call from Muss & Turners saying they wanted to do something; ‘Just give us the green light,’ ” says Kara Hidinger, Ryan’s sister and partner in Staplehouse. Then Ryan Smith (who is engaged to Kara) and Hugh Acheson, with Empire State South, got onboard, along with Anne Quatrano of Bacchanalia and Abattoir. “From there it just took off – the momentum, love, volunteers and community support.”
It all culminated with a massive event for Ryan and Jen on January 27 that “felt like an incredible wedding celebration,” says Ryan Smith (who is leaving his head spot at Empire State South to be the fourth operating partner with the Hidingers at Staplehouse). “Everybody felt this sense of connectedness and realized, we may not be wealthy monetarily, but we are rich in relationships. It felt like the entire city was stronger than it’s ever been.”
The next miracle came one night when Ryan Turner couldn’t sleep. So he wrote the Hidingers an email. “We read the email and just cried. He was lighting the fire to get Staplehouse going again because he believed in it and us so much,” says Ryan Hidinger. “So I went to talk to Ryan Smith to get his general thoughts and he said, ‘I want in. I need to do this.’ ”
But Hidinger’s chemo treatments weren’t working. How could they think about opening a restaurant when his tumors had doubled in size? And then something happened his oncologist had never seen before. Not only have his tumors stopped growing; they’ve decreased in size by 90%.
With the momentum of local support, fighting cancer and an impressive resume of partners, Staplehouse is in the process of becoming a reality, albeit with a significant and remarkable twist. “We want to make this an important place of hope for Atlanta and to give back based on what everyone else has done for me,” says Ryan Hidinger. “Staplehouse will act as a financial engine to support those in need. Every bit of profit will go to The Giving Kitchen Initiative.”
This is where we all have a chance to be a part of this story of optimism and second chances. From now through Thursday, May 30, these award-winning chefs (who are making significant financial sacrifices of their own) are asking for help to launch Staplehouse. “If people can even just give a small amount, that’s all it will take to create this restaurant concept that’s never been done,” says Jen.
If Atlanta supports this vision, there will soon be a spot on Edgewood Drive that will not only serve some of the best food in the city, but stand as a symbol of community, perseverance and miracles.
Photo by Andrew Thomas Lee