When the late Ryan Hidinger and his wife, Jen, started their non-profit for restaurant workers in crisis in 2012, I don’t think they could have predicated its trajectory. In a short four years, the Giving Kitchen has raised more than $1.6 million and has assisted more than 360 servers, cooks, hostesses, managers, and bartenders in need. It is, today, an indispensable part of our community and a point of pride for our entire city.
So, if you want to support the hardworking people who power Atlanta’s dining rooms, kitchens, and bars, buy a ticket for Team Hidi 4.0, the group’s banner fundraiser slated for the end of the month, January 31, at the Georgia Railroad Freight Depot. Through ticket sales and an auction, the event typically raises around $300K, about a third of its annual funds. This year’s theme: a vintage carnival and circus, featuring stilt walkers, aerial artists, and, on stage, Yacht Rock Revue. I sat down with Jen Hidinger and Angela Riley, the group’s communications coordinator, to hear more about 4.0 and their plans for 2016.
What are your goals for 4.0 and for the year?
AR: Our income goals are around $300K, just to continue what we’ve done in the last couple of years. We also want to engage new people, to sell tickets to people who’ve never heard of the Giving Kitchen or Team Hidi before. The more people who know about us, the more people we can help. Everybody knows somebody who works in a restaurant. That’s been our biggest challenge—educating restaurants workers without having to go into the restaurant themselves.
JH: There are 235,000 restaurants workers in the metro-Atlanta area, and we are seeing our most significant grant applications coming from just three counties (DeKalb, Fulton, and Cobb) out of 32. Just three! That means there is an abundance of the outreach opportunities. While 360 members of our community is significant and impactful, there are so many more out there that we could reach. So it’s really about constant education. If we can get on that stage and shed that light for a few more people, that’s what this event is all about.
When you discuss education and reaching out to people within the industry, what does that look like beyond Team Hidi 4.0? How do you reach out to people who don’t attend?
AR: It’s hard. Going into the restaurant and talking at server lineup is certainly a great way to do it, except that takes somebody to do that and scheduling the time. Naomi Green, our director of partnerships, does a lot of that. We’re trying to find other ways to do it. Social Media is a good way. I find that Instagram is the best for that conversation. We started a Facebook Group when Here to Serve closed called TGK Atlanta Restaurant Workers. We started it as a virtual job fair. There were thousands of people out of work, and we called our friends and told them to post any job openings. The page blew up. There are a couple thousands members, and it’s an incredible display from the community.
JH: I remember one response that was practically instantaneous. A restaurateur posted something and within two hours, he had a guy, someone from another restaurant who needed some hours. It was incredible.
AR: That’s been one way to communicate with them directly, but it’s not the answer to the question. I worked in restaurants for 10 years. You wake up, you go to work, you work, maybe have some drinks, and then you go to bed, and do it over. I didn’t read the newspaper. I didn’t turn my television on. It’s a challenge. We’re not really sure how to get in touch with [restaurant workers] directly.
In 32 counties, at that. Percentage wise, how much does Team Hidi bring in for your yearly funds?
AR: It’s our largest annual fundraiser. It would say it’s about a third.
JH: We’re just going through a major grant writing process. We have two years of financial data to offer. There’s a lot to be said to the fact that we’re there, at that level. Going back to how do we educate and how do we pass that word on, it takes staff, a tremendous amount of educated volunteers who can share this story effectively and efficiently. And that takes funds, what it would for any business. These grants would help us branch out more and reach those other communicates.
Now that Staplehouse is open, how has that affected the Giving Kitchen?
JH: It’s brought this other piece together with an organization that ended up starting earlier than the restaurant. In early 2013, we thought that this restaurant concept could be a purpose-driven, sustainable source of revenue for this non-profit that was getting ready to start. In reality, the non-profit has been a full-functioning organization, a vibrant one, that’s gaining dollars every year and offering grants, way before Staplehouse even opened. At Team Hidi 3.0, I remember standing on stage holding the permit to start building and that was a year after the Giving Kitchen got its 501(c)3.
We call Staplehouse a lighthouse and that’s because we get to be the story yeller, that tangible piece that we’re talking about: the restaurants and its workers that relate to what the bigger picture is about. To have that physical mark on the city and to do what we said we wanted to do, that’s what we’re about.