A group of restaurant veterans aims to help peers deal with alcohol and drug abuse in the industry.
It’s no secret the restaurant industry breeds an environment that makes it easy to party. You work long, stressful hours and at the end often get a “shift drink” to help burn off steam and then keep the party going into the wee hours before you do it all over again.
That lifestyle works for some, but for others, it becomes a slippery slope into drug and alcohol abuse that can oftentimes turn into addiction and sometimes death.
A 2015 study by the U.S. government’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration identified the food service and hospitality industry with the highest rate of substance abuse among other industries and ranked third in heavy alcohol use. While so many people continue to use, not many are comfortable talking about having a problem.
Enter Ben’s Friends.
After Ben Murray, a prominent chef in Charleston, S.C., committed suicide in 2016 following years of addiction and depression, his friends Mickey Bakst, the general manager of Charleston Grill, and Steve Palmer, managing partner of Indigo Road hospitality group, knew they needed to do something. Both sober for many years, the pair launched Ben’s Friends, a food and beverage industry support group that allows people struggling with substance abuse and addiction a safe place to come when they want help.
“What we find is there’s a stigma around AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] or 12-step programs,” Palmer says. “Restaurant people feel safe walking into a meeting of other restaurant people. There’s a common language and knowing what they’re going through. Once they come to a meeting, we can help them with the whole recovery.”
Palmer is the first to tell you Ben’s Friends is not the one-stop shop, but a resource. It’s a first step for many people, who can then decide to go through a full program or get other counseling. The group started in Charleston in the fall of 2016, and today has chapters in Charlotte and Raleigh, N.C., Atlanta, Richmond, Va., Minneapolis, Austin, Texas, and Portland, Ore., that meet weekly, sometimes twice. Other cities can easily open chapters.
“If people need help, we need to be able to help them—and not be ashamed to ask for it,” says Scott Crawford, chef/owner of Crawford and Son as well as Jolie, in Raleigh. He also started Ben’s Friends there. “That otherwise will keep them drinking, using and dying.
Which is the main reason for Ben’s Friends: To help stop that downward cycle.