13 Questions is a weekly series where we ask chefs 13 questions to get to know them outside of the kitchen. Jen Hidinger is the co-founder of Staplehouse and the Giving Kitchen.
What do you do when you aren’t running the restaurant?
I love to travel when I can, but the main thing for me is trying to spend time at home with my boyfriend and dogs. I have three dogs: Zida, a yellow lab mix; Camper, a black-and-white hound mix; and Goonie, a dauchsund mix. They’re all adopted from Atlanta Humane Society.
What’s the last show you bingewatched?
Game of Thrones
Do you cook?
I never stepped into the kitchen when my late husband [Ryan] was alive, and it took me a really long time to get into the kitchen after he passed away because it was his heart and soul. But several months into 2014, I stepped into the kitchen for the first time, and I cooked pretty frequently. I don’t have a signature dish. I don’t cook anymore because it’s about the restaurant every hour, so when I am home, I go try a couple new restaurants.
What was the biggest culture shock moving from Indianapolis to Atlanta?
Ryan and I moved right after I graduated from college in May 2004. I was 22. We roadtripped around the country and landed in Atlanta. I had been to Atlanta with Ryan throughout college visiting family here, so to move to Atlanta wasn’t that overwhelming. It’s just a bigger city with a whole lot more to do.
Beer, wine, or cocktails?
Wine and cocktails. I’m a huge rosé fan in the summer. I lean toward red a lot as well. Cocktails are whatever fits the season and my mood, but I love Kimball House, the Pinewood, and Ticonderoga Club.
What was your first job?
I studied broadcast production at Indiana University. Right when I moved here, my first career job was in advertising at a local ad agency. Then I had a series of other jobs in advertising and marketing, like set styling and wardrobe styling.
What’s your guilty pleasure snack food?
I love chips and queso. The queso at El Mexicano is delicious.
Is it tricky to run a restaurant when you’re all related?
Working with family is a great challenge, but we don’t really argue; we talk everything through. It’s extremely personal, but that’s the grounding moment we get to honor. We have a good headstart of why we’re here.
Tell me the story behind your crane tattoo.
I did a lot of ink therapy in 2014. The crane is dedicated to my late husband. During the course of Ryan’s cancer battle in 2013, we received 1,000 paper cranes twice. We were so blown away by just how much time that takes. And during the latter part of 2013 when Ryan started to decline, animals and nature played a really big role in his spirituality. Ryan had told me and his family that [after he was gone] he would be okay, and he would make sure he played games with us. The Saturday morning after he died, there was a huge thunderstorm, and he loved thunderstorms. We could tell quite immediately he was okay. And on the roof of my house, there was a crane sitting on our chimney. The crane stayed there for two or there hours, pooping on our chimney twice. We thought that is the most powerful sign.
Where are you traveling to next?
My boyfriend and I are going to visit his family in Texas for a couple of days, then flying straight to Indianapolis for the Indy 500 100th anniversary.
What’s the best kept secret of your neighborhood?
We live in Grant Park. It won’t be a secret much longer, but the close proximity that my house is to the BeltLine.
If you weren’t in restaurants, what would you be doing?
I’d probably still be working with Rachel [Baba] who owns Seed Factory. Everything about it was pretty fantastic. I left Seed Factory when Ryan was diagnosed. I had to focus on him.
What’s your favorite nonprofit other than the Giving Kitchen?
I really love the work that Plywood People are doing. The founder, Jeff Shinabarger, is a huge inspiration for people doing good work, for real people who need encouragement. I think they’ve just got a lot great personality behind them. I love that they’re committed to that social awareness and empowerment, especially Plywood Presents.