Mark Hinkle, teaming up with his wife, Jenn, has made his mark in STL as a restaurant owner and founder of The Ollie Hinkle Heart Foundation. He shares his inspiring story with us.
1.) Tell us about yourself! What brought you to STL?
I was born and raised in Alton and my wife, Jenn, in Afton. We met in Chicago where our careers in restaurants took shape. It was an amazing experience that we wouldn’t trade for anything, but STL is home. I couldn’t imagine living this life without family and our community close by.
2.) We’ve heard you have a background in restaurant management and hospitality. How did you decide you wanted to move into ownership?
It was always a dream from way before I should have even considered having my own place. I guess I’ve always wanted to be able to share my version of the perfect restaurant(s). My brain is just wired that way. It’s always analyzing restaurants, food, service, hospitality, people, and spaces. Taking it all in anywhere I go. I’ve been doing that for 20 years, and I guess I wanted to take all of this information and apply it; create something with it that I can share with others. And selfishly, create the restaurants that I’d want to go to. And now I get to, and that’s a pretty special feeling to see it all come together.
3.) Tell us about your family here on earth and your angel Ollie.
I am blessed to be married to an incredibly strong woman—someone who inspires me daily. And to have two beautiful girls. Maddie, who has been our rock, just turned 11 and Annie, our rainbow, is turning 6. The strength I see in these girls running alongside their playfulness, imagination, and innocence, is amazing to witness. Kids shouldn’t have to know the pain and loss that these two, and so many others, know. Even Annie, who was born after we lost Ollie, knows it. She knows her big brother isn’t here and why. She feels the loss and carries on and lifts him up like we, as a family, always have. Ollie was everything you’d expect. A sweet innocent little boy who had to go through way too much during his short life. We miss him and talk about him all the time. We’ve always made a point to keep him front and center and not hide from the pain. The pain represents him and our memories. We want to feel it.
4.) We’ve heard from many moms on our website who have lost children, but we’ve never heard a dad’s perspective. How did losing your son shape the journey your life has taken?
There is no question that it changes you. How could it not? As dads, I guess there is the mentality of being strong, playing the role of protector. I’ve never felt more helpless. I’ve never felt more like I lost, like I failed, as I did then. I knew then, and I know now, that I (and we) did everything we could, but that feeling was inescapable. It gave me a feeling of vulnerability that I’ve never known. But at the end of the day, that vulnerability made me stronger. It also fully opened my eyes to the community and love that surrounds our family. Throughout Ollie’s life, after his death, and still seven years later, this love and community continue to carry us and give us strength. So much good in the world. So much love.
5.) What advice or encouragement can you offer to a family walking through the grief of losing a child?
Walk your path. There is no right or wrong way. But for me, welcoming the pain and opening up to my community about it has been critical. It’s OK to cry. You should. I’m crying right now! Cry in private. Cry in public. Cry with friends. It doesn’t matter.
6.) We’d love to know more about your foundation and how our readers can get involved with the important work you’re doing!
We were thrown, quickly and unexpectedly, into the crazy world of Congenital Heart Disease. We know first-hand the impact this has on families, physically, emotionally, and financially. We wanted to do anything we could to help other families like us. Help them navigate this world. Help make it easier for them and their children. Help provide resources and money for research to medical providers and researchers. Help to keep others from experiencing the loss of a child. While education, prevention, and treatment are huge parts of our mission, we understand the importance and are extremely passionate about providing outreach and support in unique and meaningful ways. This is what we do through the Ollie Hinkle Heart Foundation (www.theohhf.org) thanks to our donors’ tremendous support.
7.) Tell us about the restaurants you own today (we know our readers probably know them and love them!).
Our second homes and second families. I love our restaurants and the people that make them what they are; the staff, the customers, our vendors, and our delivery drivers—my friends. The people and the relationships that I have because of our restaurants mean so much to me. I’m missing those daily interactions more than anything right now. I hope they mean the same to all of these people. The restaurants were always meant to be for the community. For people. Places to be together, relax, have fun, enjoy great food and drink, but most importantly, it’s the community.
8.) Where do you and your family love to spend time in STL? Favorite spot with kids? Favorite date night spot?
We love to get out and explore, sometimes just walking around Webster. It is such a cool neighborhood. St Louis is full of neighborhoods like this. Cool old homes. Great parks. We love all of the places that make STL a great place for families; the Botanical Gardens, the Zoo, and Forest Park. Date night for us is generally focused around dining out (shocking, I know— Billie Jean, Cate Zone, Indo, Union Loafers, and Elmwood, just to name a few). Catching a show at the Pageant or Delmar Hall is another thing we love to do. And any of these nights generally wrap up with a nightcap at Olive +Oak.
9.) OK, so be honest. What’s on your Father’s Day wish list this year??
Relax. Unwind. Chill with the fam. Eat some good food and have a cold beer. Easy enough, right?
10.) What is something misunderstood globally about dads? 🙂
Wow. This one’s deep! But honestly, I think we are pretty well understood. We work hard, love our families, but sometimes just want to sit in our chair, have a drink, and watch football. At the end of the day, we are pretty simple.
Born and raised in Alton, Illinois, Mark fell in love with food at an early age. Never foreseeing a “career” in food, he attended the University of Illinois and pursued a degree in business.
Under the guidance of some of Chicago’s best Maître D’s he learned the ins and outs of how to run a great restaurant. While he never lost his passion for the kitchen, he found his true calling in delivering old school hospitality. After stints within Gibsons Restaurant Group, at RL and Gibsons Steakhouse, he earned a spot as General Manager of Hugo’s at the age of 25. In early 2007, Mark and his soon to be wife Jennifer made the move back to St. Louis to tie the knot, start a family, and join what was becoming a very exciting local restaurant community.
After acting as General Manager for two restaurant openings, Mark eventually found a home at the Chesterfield landmark, Annie Gunn’s; here he found his niche. His passion for not just the guest, but also food, wine, beer, cocktails and all aspects of the business evolved. In 2015, having fallen in love with the character and charm of Webster Groves, Mark set out to bring something new to the neighborhood his family called home. Determined to create a friendly, bustling spot with thoughtfully prepared food and gracious hospitality, Olive + Oak was born. In 2017, following Olive + Oak’s success, Mark opened an Italian-inspired café, The Clover & the Bee, next door to his flagship.
In addition to his restaurants, Mark dedicates his time and resources to the Ollie Hinkle Heart Foundation. It was founded with his wife, Jennifer, in honor of their son Ollie Hinkle who lost his battle with CHD at age one. The OHHF is a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting the leading birth defect in the U.S., Congenital Heart Defects, and supporting and strengthening heart families throughout the St. Louis region and beyond.