Ryan Smith, Empire State South’s executive chef, will leave his position by the end of 2013 to join as a partner in the forthcoming Staplehouse, conceived by Ryan and Jen Hidinger. Smith’s fiancé and Ryan Hidinger’s sister, Kara Hidinger (currently at Abattoir), will also be a partner in the restaurant. The team hopes to have the restaurant open by the end of the year; they’ve already filed a letter of intent on a building in the Old Fourth Ward/Inman Park area.
Ryan and Jen Hidinger have long been planning Staplehouse, most notably through their supper club series, A Prelude to Staplehouse, that began in February 2009. They were in negotiations for a lease for their restaurant when the couple learned devastating news in December: Ryan (a chef at Muss & Turner’s) had been diagnosed with stage IV gallbladder cancer. The Atlanta restaurant community responded with an outpouring of support, creating Team Hidi and organizing events and fundraisers to bolster Ryan as he undergoes treatment.
The Hidingers have been so moved and inspired by the kindness that Team Hidi is in turn spearheading an effort called theGivingKitchen, a non-profit initiative that will help “restaurant workers in need of unanticipated hardship.” We’ll hear more about that after next Monday, when the team makes a formal announcement at Local Three.
The encouragement also motivated the Hidingers to continue their plans with opening Staplehouse, which is where Smith comes in. “It felt like my path,” he says. “I often stew over things, but I’ve never second-guessed this decision. I have zero hesitations. Family is the biggest thing I value now.” He and Hidinger plan to share kitchen responsibilities; again, the team will release more details on Monday.
Smith says he has received nothing but reassurance from Hugh Acheson, chef/partner of Empire State South. “He’s insanely supportive of this,” he says, “and I can’t be more grateful.” Over the next six months, Smith will remain at the restaurant, working with Acheson to ensure the kitchen will be in the best possible shape in terms of staffing and culinary direction during and after Smith’s transition.