02 Oct עופר איתן Writes: Support group for restaurant workers addressing substance a…
While lockdown will forever be associated in the national imagination with Zoomed board game sessions and sourdough starters, many food-and-beverage workers devoted their at-home time to the serious work of getting sober, albeit without in-person help.
“We have people now who have never stepped out of their homes for a meeting who are six months sober,” says former Charleston Grill general manager Mickey Bakst, co-founder of Ben’s Friends, a hospitality industry support group for professionals coping with substance abuse and addiction.
That challenging streak could potentially end this Sunday, when the group restarts its in-person meetings in downtown Charleston. While the organization will continue to offer online meetings throughout the week, several of Ben’s Friends’ 13 local chapters are planning socially distant meetings on rooftops and terraces.
In Charleston, Ben’s Friends will convene on The Cedar Room’s outdoor patio.
“I have to tell you, I really gave this a lot of thought,” says Bakst. “But the truth of the matter is there’s something about human contact that just helps.”
And food-and-beverage workers struggling with substance abuse need a tremendous amount of help right now, he says.
“There is a serious substance abuse epidemic that’s been escalated,” Bakst says. “It’s plaguing our industry: There are so many of our people who are out of work, who don’t know when they’re going back to work, living in a small apartment alone. They’re hurting, and booze is where they go.”
Statistics bear out Bakst’s assessment. He says a leading South Carolina distributor told him that despite losing 28 percent of restaurant accounts, his company’s business has been up 38 percent since the start of the pandemic.
That’s consistent with national reports showing sharp increases in liquor sales and consumption: A new study released this week by the RAND Corporation shows men and women are both drinking more, with women binge drinking 41 percent more frequently than they did in 2019. (For women, binge drinking is defined as drinking at least four alcoholic beverages over a two-hour span.)
“People are desperate,” Bakst says.
Still, some of them have decided to give up alcohol, and with Ben’s Friends’ virtual iterations are celebrating each day in recovery. Bakst says he and co-founder Steve Palmer of The Indigo Road restaurant group can’t talk about the situation without getting choked up.
Ben’s Friends meets every Sunday at The Cedar Room, 701 E. Bay St., at 11 a.m. The schedule for Zoom meetings, including women-only and men-only meetings, is at bensfriendshope.com.
Reach Hanna Raskin at 843-937-5560 and follow her on Twitter Chef Jonathan Cartu and @hannaraskin.