Ryan Hidinger, sous chef at Muss & Turner’s, was diagnosed late last month with stage four gallbladder cancer. He and his wife, Jen, shared the news publicly last week on the blog of their beloved four-year-old supper club, Staplehouse. Although the diagnosis is devastating, Atlanta’s food and dining industry is coming together to support one of their own.
Hidinger’s family, friends, and colleagues have rallied to form Team Hidi, a hub for raising funds to support his pending medical care. “Hidi” is Hidinger’s high school basketball nickname, and, he says, “it’s the one sure way my wife can get my attention.”
No cancer diagnosis is ever timely, but this one is particularly heartbreaking: The Hidingers were in the middle of negotiating a lease for a brick-and-mortar location of Staplehouse, their longtime dream. Now, around the same table that numerous diners have enjoyed Staplehouse creations, Hidinger’s family sits and troubleshoots its plan of attack. Team Hidi’s ultimate mission is to help get the couple back on track to open their restaurant. Mission one, of course: beat this cancer.
It’s possible that Hidinger’s passion for food may have helped to save his life. “As a chef,” he told me this morning in a phone interview, “New York City is a mecca for us, but I’d never been. Jen decided to buy me a ticket for our anniversary to take a day trip up there—eat, drink, do whatever I wanted. Ryan Smith [executive chef at Empire State South] bought a ticket, too. We went to New York and I had one of the most amazing days I’d ever had.”
You could say they over-indulged. But over the next several days, Hidinger suffered severe flu symptoms. Jen even caught it, too. Eventually the bug passed, but the pain persisted. An MRI laid the facts on the table.
“I wore my immune system down running around town all day eating and drinking in excess to the point that I got the flu,” Hidinger said, “But that flu caused my gallbladder cancer to flair and let me know that it was there. Previous to that I had no signs.”
A generally healthy thirty-five year old man, Hidinger's form of cancer is rare: It typically shows up in men twice his age. Because of the precarious nature of his cancer—tumors first formed in his abdomen, then the cancer spread to his liver—surgery is not a viable option. Hidinger must look to chemotherapy and alternative methods. Team Hidi hopes to remove financial strain as a potential obstacle to Hidinger’s fight.
The Team Hidi Benefit will kick off Sunday, January 27 from 4-8 p.m. at the King Plow Events Gallery. Tickets are $150 per person, and through generous industry donations, participants will enjoy offerings from an expanding list that includes Muss & Turner’s, Local Three, Abattoir, Floataway Café, Bacchanalia, Empire State South, Brick Store Pub, Leon’s Full Service, Taco Mac, Cakes & Ale, and many more. There will be drinks aplenty and entertainment by Frank Dux Fighting Academy Orchestra and Yacht Rock Revue. The Team Hidi website states a minimum of 95 percent of ticket sales will go to the Hidingers.
In addition to the benefit, a growing list of restaurants are participating in Round Up for Ryan, an opportunity for diners to add a donation to their bills at Muss & Turners, Local Three, and Empire State South. New restaurants are being added; feel free to say which ones in the comments section.
“I don’t know how to say thanks,” Hidinger said. “All I do is cook food. That’s all I do.” Of the journey ahead, Hidinger is optimistic—in large part, he says, because of the outpouring he and his wife have received: “I’m ready to do this.”