Jen Hidinger-Kendrick (Courtesy Giving Kitchen)

Restaurants in Atlanta, Nashville, and Charlotte are raising money in October for Giving Kitchen, the Atlanta nonprofit that helps food service workers in times of emergency.

Giving Kitchen grew out of the overwhelming response to the cancer diagnosis of Chef Ryan Hidinger in 2012. Hidinger was well-known in Atlanta for his work at Bacchanalia, Floataway Café, Muss & Turner’s, and the supper club, Prelude to Staplehouse, created with his wife, Jen.

Hidinger succumbed to cancer in 2013, but the aid given by the community set the intent, beliefs, and values for Giving Kitchen.

A decade later, co-founder Jen Hidinger-Kendrick, remarried and with a young son, continues to work with Giving Kitchen as its senior director of community engagement. During October, that engagement includes the Dining With Gratitude fundraiser.

Participating restaurants have pledged $1,000 to Giving Kitchen, and diners can help reach that goal by having a meal through Oct. 31. See the list of participating restaurants here.

We caught up with Hidinger-Kendrick to talk about the organization’s crucial role during the COVID-19 pandemic, how it continues to grow, and her favorite Intown dining spots.

Giving Kitchen has its roots in the restaurant and food community offering financial support when Ryan was diagnosed with cancer in 2012. Could you have imagined then that the organization would become such a vital part of aiding other food workers in need?

Yes and no. You never really anticipate what it will grow into. But the growth has been the community stepping up in a big way and seeing the reality of need in this industry. In very early 2013, it turned into this lightbulb moment. When my late husband was still alive, some of our original board members were meeting at our home, and they were discussing what Giving Kitchen should be and whom would it serve. When it got to Ryan, he said it has to be for everyone.  

The COVID-19 pandemic put the entire restaurant community in crisis. What is a lasting memory of how Giving Kitchen mobilized during that period to help industry workers survive? 

It was a remarkable time for Giving Kitchen. The pandemic gave us the opportunity to clear away the ambiguity and send a clear and concise message of what and who we are. We also invested in our infrastructure and tech to help food workers more effectively, especially in that first year. We had 20 times the volume of clients in 2020 than we saw the year before and more website traffic in the first two weeks of March than all of 2019. And, even more importantly, we have been able to lessen the amount of time to provide assistance from 45 days pre-pandemic to between 11 and 15 days.

Dining With Gratitude is happening this month at restaurants in Georgia, Tennessee, and North Carolina. What would you like diners to know about this fundraiser?

It’s a really great opportunity to get out and give back to the community that serves us every day. Going out to eat and contributing back to those workers is how you can support the restaurant industry and its workers.

When you’re not busy with Giving Kitchen, what are some of your favorite places to dine in Atlanta? 

We love Kimball House in Decatur and How Crispy chicken, which is near our neighborhood. For local bars, Elsewhere and Halfway Crooks. But my number one space for a special occasion is mujō.

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.