The Story Behind Staplehouse, Atlanta's Powerhouse New Restaurant
There is more to Staplehouse than meets the very admiring eye. Even as the accolades and glowing reviews continue to rush in, the Atlanta newcomer has always stood for more than acclaimed tasting menus and celebrated New American cuisine.
Located in the heart of Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward, right around the corner from where Martin Luther King Jr. was born, Staplehouse is serving creative takes on seasonal dishes using the best local and regional ingredients. It’s also a for-profit subsidiary of The Giving Kitchen, a nonprofit organization serving the city’s restaurant community.
The restaurant’s inspiration is rooted in its past. Staplehouse was once the dream of Chef Ryan Hidinger, who was diagnosed with Stage 4 gallbladder cancer in December of 2012 and died seven months later. After his passing, his wife, Jen Hidinger, sister, Kara Hidinger, and her husband, Chef Ryan Smith, embraced the vision—first imagined during ticket-only dinners at the Hidingers’ house—and made sure the restaurant became a reality. And they didn’t do it alone.
Ryan Turner, Chris Hall, and Todd Mussman—partners at Atlanta-based Unsukay Community of Businesses and restaurant operators—ultimately created The Giving Kitchen in Ryan Hidinger’s honor. Before the organization’s launch, the first event, dubbed ‘Team Hidi,” along with roundup requests in area restaurants, raised $275,000 in a mere four weeks for his cancer treatments.
Since then, the 501 (c) 3 organization, which got its official start in January 2014, has granted more than $750,000. Part of the money has come from Staplehouse’s profits as well as from restaurant guests who want to make additional contributions when they pay their tabs. The Giving Kitchen’s mission is to provide crisis grants to members of Atlanta’s 230,000-strong restaurant community who are facing unanticipated hardships.
“Staplehouse is in honor of our backstory. It supports the dream that Ryan and I shared together,” Jen Hidinger says. “This restaurant furthers his legacy and provides a lighthouse for The Giving Kitchen.”
In its first year, Staplehouse was a James Beard finalist for Best New Restaurant and named the Best New Restaurant in America by Bon Appétit.
Opened in September 2015, the 40-seat dining room offers two menus—a prix fixe, five-course tasting menu for $85, and à la carte items that are typically shared.
Hidinger says about 75 percent of diners choose the prix fixe option. When wines and beverages are added, average tickets for the tasting menu run about $115, while the à la carte menu typically brings in about $55 per person. The restaurant, which is open Wednesday through Saturday night and Sunday for brunch, encourages reservations.
“Staplehouse’s cuisine is a creative and adventurous approach to food,” Hidinger says. “We focus 100 percent on quality. Ryan’s food is beautiful and inspired, not simplistic.”
While Ryan Smith’s tasting menu is the clear winner with guests, when it comes to à la carte options there are fan favorites as well.
Grandma Lillian’s potato bread for $5, a burnt onion puff for $7, and a chicken liver tart with fermented peach, dandelion greens, and radish for $10 are bestsellers.
Food costs routinely run around 30 percent, and there are 20 employees, evenly split between the front and back of the house.
It was always part of the Hidingers’ dream to name their restaurant Staplehouse.
“We wanted to signify the things you love and crave [staples] and the place that you go to get those things [home],” she explains.
Aside from the dining room, Staplehouse can also seat eight people at the bar, up to 30 on the patio, and another 24 in a second-floor private-dining room.
The building is zoned commercial but was a private residence for many years. Staplehouse’s interior features a warm and welcoming ambience that is anchored with a completely open kitchen.
The restaurant has received widespread press that has boosted its popularity. “When we first opened, it was much quieter than we anticipated,” Jen Hidinger notes. “Once we received the James Beard nod, it completely shifted our business.”
Most recently, Staplehouse, which is frequented by guests from the neighborhood as often as by destination diners, earned a four-star review from Corby Kummer in Atlanta Magazine, where he told readers the restaurant was worth the trip, even if it meant getting on an airplane.
While Jen Hidinger acknowledges Staplehouse is contributing regularly to The Giving Kitchen, she declines to offer specifics but says, “It is a pay-it-forward approach. We have to cover our taxes, rent, staff payroll, and our loan, but anything beyond that goes into The Giving Kitchen.”
And the trio behind the restaurant wouldn’t have it any other way. As an added bonus, the giving message also makes guests feel good about eating at Staplehouse.
“There is a growing trend of socially conscious spending,” Jen Hidinger says. “Staplehouse allows diners to connect in a deeper way, and that is extremely important to what we are building here. It is the perfect example of how food and culture and community can relate.”