The Giving Kitchen
Angela Riley had a job waiting tables at Leon’s Full Service in Decatur, GA, when, while out with friends one evening in May 2013, she was hit by a car. The impact broke her back, and her skull hit the windshield hard enough to shatter the glass, which left her in a coma with a severe traumatic brain injury. She was in the hospital for a month and in cognitive and physical therapy for the next six months. But before she had even left the hospital, a community of support had begun to rally around her, spearheaded by The Giving Kitchen. “I woke up in the hospital surrounded by love. My family, my restaurant family, and all of my friends turned up big,” says Riley. “Decatur and Atlanta had my back.”
The Giving Kitchen coalesced from an unexpected outpouring of support for Atlanta chef Ryan Hidinger when he was diagnosed with stage-four gallbladder cancer in December 2012. Hidinger had long been a part of the Atlanta restaurant community through work at Bacchanalia, Floataway Café, and eight years at Muss & Turner’s. He and his wife Jen (pictured together, above) had also been planning to open their own restaurant, Staplehouse, inspired by a series of pop-up dinners hosted in their home.
Hidinger’s diagnosis, with a projected six-months left to live, derailed their plans—until the industry he had served for so many years stepped in to provide their own service. Ryan Turner, co-founder of Muss & Turner’s, offered support and the Atlanta restaurant community soon rallied, organizing the culinary event Team Hidi that raised $275,000 for Hidinger’s expenses. Overwhelmed by the generosity, Hidinger resolved to pay it forward, and in 2013 he and Jen co-founded The Giving Kitchen, which offers direct grants to workers in the Atlanta service industry facing unanticipated crisis. “If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant you probably understand what it means to be ‘in the weeds,’ ” says Riley. “The hours you spend in the weeds with the folks you’re down there with creates a special bond. And when your buddy is going through a rough situation, you feel it.”
Hidinger passed away in January of 2014, but The Giving Kitchen carries on his legacy. Since forming, the organization has given $700,000 in direct grants to nearly 400 Atlanta-area restaurant workers, a community made up of more than 235,000 employees. The Staplehouse restaurant also became a reality, opening its doors in September 2015, with all of the restaurant’s profits after taxes going to The Giving Kitchen.
In keeping with the spirit of kitchen-community support, many of the participating Atlanta-area bars chose The Giving Kitchen as their designated charity for Negroni Week 2015, and The Iberian Pig was randomly selected by Imbibe to receive an additional $1,000 donation to The Giving Kitchen. “We, of course, love the financial donation, but brand awareness is of great importance to us as well, and the Negroni Week platform is huge!” says Riley, who now serves as the communications and PR manager for The Giving Kitchen. “The social media response itself is incredible.”
For Riley, and for hundreds of others in the Atlanta restaurant industry, an unexpected crisis became a connection to a much larger community. “I can look at the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, and acknowledge that it was also the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”