Offering a Bridge to Sobriety
By Emma Castleberry
Asheville’s hospitality industry—encompassing the hotels, bars and restaurants that make this city such a popular place to visit—is a huge part of the community. And the workforce employed by this industry faces unique challenges when trying to live a sober lifestyle. “There’s such a hard-wired context for alcohol and drug use—especially alcohol use—in the hospitality industry,” says Andrew McLeod, leader of the Asheville chapter of Ben’s Friends, a national support group for people in the hospitality industry struggling with addiction. “If you work in the front of house, you’re serving alcohol to people daily. If you’re working in the back of house, you are likely offered shift drinks at the end of your day, and/or go out with the cook staff after work for drinks. We are exposed much more often to these things than people in many other industries.”
McLeod goes on to explain that, in traditional recovery settings, those in recovery are often told to change their environment in their first year of sobriety—a piece of advice that is hard for those who are passionate about their hospitality careers. “You’re often told that you can’t work in this industry and stay sober because of the exposure to this type of use culture,” McLeod says. “Having an industry-specific support group gives us another option than total avoidance to the industry we love and want to continue working in.”
Mickey Bakst, founder of Ben’s Friends with Steve Palmer, says the organization was born, in part, out of frustration. “Both Steve and I got sick and tired of seeing alcohol and drugs destroy brilliant talents in the restaurant industry,” says Bakst, who’s been sober for 38 years. “We said enough was enough.” The pair started hosting group support meetings in Charleston geared specifically towards people working in hospitality. “We never expected it to be what it is,” he says. “It has filled me with so much joy to see young people from Seattle and Portland to New York and Miami get sober and stay in this industry because of Ben’s Friends.”
The Asheville chapter of Ben’s Friends meets in person every Monday from 10—11 a.m. at A-B Tech Culinary Arts and Hospitality School. “Our only agenda is to spread the word about staying sober within the food and beverage industry,” says McLeod. “There’s been a lot of fear in restaurant operations in the last year or so. If there’s something that we as a recovery community can do to alleviate some aspect of that fear, even if it’s just that you know you aren’t alone, we want to get that message out there.”
For someone who isn’t struggling with addiction, or perhaps doesn’t even work in hospitality, McLeod says that spreading the word about Ben’s Friends can save a life. “Join Ben’s Friends national Instagram account and share the post, find Ben’s Friends on Facebook and share the post,” he says. “The best thing a non-addict can do is to spread the word and awareness about us.”
AB-Tech Culinary Arts and Hospitality School is located at 30 Tech Drive in the Magnolia Building. For more information, including links to social accounts, visit BensFriendsHope.com.