One of the city’s best Middle-Eastern eateries packs lots of flavor into every bite
February 8, 2023
Hospitality nonprofit Giving Kitchen expands to Charlotte
Food service workers can seek financial support during hardships
by Kristen Wile
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Jen and Ryan Hidinger’s culinary careers in Atlanta started with a successful supper club series out of their home. As their reputation for hospitality grew, the couple decided to follow a dream and open a restaurant. The economy was bad, and the couple exerted every effort they could in trying to build the restaurant up. After four years, it finally appeared as though they were on the cusp of reaching their goals.
“In late 2012, everything started to come together for us with this idea of it as a dream business for he and I,” Jen Hidinger-Kendrick says. “And he ended up getting sick. We went to the doctor, which led to an oncologist appointment, and that day — Dec. 21, 2012 — was the day that he was told that he had six months to live. He was diagnosed with a terminal cancer diagnosis: Stage IV gallbladder cancer. And it was just a surreal time in our lives where everything kind of just halted.”
The culinary community in Atlanta rallied around the couple, hosting a fundraiser that raised nearly $300,000 — an amount significantly higher than the anticipated $25,000. The event, named “Team Hidi” in honor of Ryan’s last name, became the foundation for a new nonprofit that would help hospitality professionals like Ryan when they faced unexpected emergencies. The Hidingers and the culinarians that rallied around him joined together to create Giving Kitchen, and now, nearly a decade after Ryan’s passing, the nonprofit is expanding into Charlotte.
Giving Kitchen aids food service workers facing crisis in four areas: illness, injury, death of a family member, or a housing disaster such as fire or flood. The most common assistance comes as rent relief, with Giving Kitchen paying three or four months of rent for their clients.
“Most Americans — 80 percent of us — will probably go out to eat this week,” Hidinger-Kendrick says. “A quarter of us as Americans have worked in food service. Not only does this industry have had suicide ideation at the forefront, and also substance misuse is top ranking in this industry. But these are individuals who show up to work.”
Those who have need of assistance can apply through Giving Kitchen’s website, and will hear back from a case worker within about two weeks — a turnaround time that’s down from 45 days two years ago. During the pandemic, Hidinger-Kendrick says, a majority of their requests were in the illness category; though injury is generally the most common reason folks ask for support, this year, the death of a family member has spurred the most requests.
Charlotte makes Giving Kitchen’s third expansion; the organization recently grew to include staff in Nashville, too. Hidinger-Kendrick, however, says the group has plenty of room to grow, and Charlotte is the next step in that.
“It was really just this idea of we’ve got to start small,” she says. “We have to build a strong foundation and we have to build that trust in our community in order to do what we really want to do, which is help as many people as we can.”
As they introduce themselves to the Charlotte area, Hidinger-Kendrick says the best way to support the nonprofit — beyond financial assistance — is to help spread the word about Giving Kitchen to hospitality members who may need their support. In order to get to know the city’s culinary scene, staff has been hosting events throughout the city, including an upcoming reception this Thursday at Botiwalla.