In The Weeds co-founder talks mental health in the restaurant industry

The nonprofit organization emphasizes healthy lifestyle choices

In the Weeds offers restaurant industry workers healthy alternatives to drinking. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald file)

Jerry McBride

For many in Durango, the restaurant and hospitality industry is how they make a living.

Restaurants and bars are highly emphasized due to the high rate of visits to the city, especially during the summer. Although many of the workers are passionate about their work, the industry comes with a degree of stress and mental turmoil.

In 2019, John Rowe and Blaine Bailey started In The Weeds, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping change the culture of mental health in the restaurant industry.

Bailey sat with The Durango Herald to discuss issues of mental health and substance use in the hospitality industry.

Q: How did In The Weeds start?

A: We started a few years ago, and before that I was in the industry for 17 years. I actually first came up with the idea in 2015.

My co-founder, John Rowe, was working for me at Carver’s, and we lost one of our cooks to an overdose. We’ve been working with him trying to connect them with other resources in town, but we’re still running the business.

And John, he’s in school for his sociology as (a licensed clinical social worker) and everything. I told him, I said, Man, when you graduate we need therapy for scary chefs, and we laughed at the time, like, That’s never going to happen, you know? Years went by, and in 2018, I lost my relationship and was struggling and just stressed out from working all the time.

I can’t spend time on my relationship and my partnership and my personal relationships. So I decided it was time to take a little break and come out to Wisconsin for the summer and get away from everything here.

I worked in a company. And our chef, he gave us a project for the summer and it (focused on) How can we save the world through food?

And so I started thinking about it. I kind of come down to the individual, you know, you can’t help others until you help yourself. Then it’s like, What can that look like? And so why not our industry? hospitality industry? Because we are connected to every other industry

Everyone from bankers, construction, real estate, whatever, they all come to restaurants at one point, you know, usually a few hours a week and we have a wonderful opportunity to connect with other industries. , drinks, atmosphere, all kinds of things.

Everyone from bankers, construction, real estate, whatever, they all go to restaurants at one point. We have a wonderful opportunity to connect with other industries. We can literally change the trajectory of someone’s day.

That’s where the idea started, and then we decided to bring it back here in Durango because we have a lot of restaurants in town.

I’ve known a lot of restaurant chefs and focused on restaurants, and we kind of had that relationship, because we talk about mental health and substance use and suicide prevention, all the heavy stuff. .

Q: If you had to measure it, how bad is the issue of mental health or substance use in the restaurant or hospitality industry?

A: In La Plata County, I don’t have those numbers in mind. To give you an idea nationally, and even globally, we are the third largest industry for substance use issues.

I think the top two are like health and construction or something. But you know, we always laugh like it’s so bad in our industry because it’s really like the rock star lifestyle, and you can party and keep your job and all that.

Then when we start looking at like the entertainment sector and the No. 4 of this, and (hospitality) No. 3. It’s like, Oh, we really party harder than rock stars.

Q: Why do you think that is?

A: There are many things that kind of overlap. From being overworked, underpaid, and a huge passion-based industry.

People ask questions like, Why do you stay in this industry if the pay isn’t that great? We love what we do. We love helping others, taking care of others, whatever. It is (a) a low-income industry, which is something we are trying to change and do, creating a viable career from this industry.

And then there’s the ease of access. If you work in a restaurant, the booze is there all the time. Especially if you are a bartender or server, and constantly pouring drinks. So I tried to transfer that culture.

A lot of restaurants will do drink shifts and those kinds of things, and so try to get away from that and provide other healthier incentives and rewards or options.

Yes, overworked, underpaid, accessibility, culture, tradition, you know, that’s the industry of misfits and users, and you can still keep your job hungover.

That was my first job.

My manager was like, I don’t care what you’re on as long as you can still do your job. We start drinking at 8, you know?

Q: What does your organization offer to help people in the restaurant industry?

A: The biggest is our premier self-care program. So, these are our healthy rewards for healthy choices. And this is how we help our businesses because providing shift drinks is one of the cheapest, easiest benefits available to workers.

But there’s folks that are like, I don’t want to drink or they’re under 21 or they are sober. Then it’s like Well, where’s my $3 for not getting my shift drink or whatever? People are like, I might as well take my shift drink because there’s nothing else to do.

So it’s like a punch pass. Every time they refuse a drink, they get punched. When they get 10 hits, they can turn it in for a $25 voucher for a variety of healthy alternatives. That’s No. 1 used item.

I moved here 10 years ago from Arkansas to go and do all the fun stuff and I couldn’t afford any of the fun stuff. So the other option is trying to remove barriers, we pay for passes to climbing gyms, yoga studios and then we have like snowshoes and snowboards for people in the industry to get for free.

Summertime, it’s paddle boards, kayaks, and then just connecting people with resources, training, those kinds of things.

Things like professional life skills and capacity building and training, we will pay those people in the industry to reduce the cost barriers so they can grow and the way they want to.

Q: Do you think there’s anything restaurant owners can do to further this cause, or is it just part of the industry?

A: There’s always, I think on an individual business level, talking to your team, and being part of your team and listening to your people and paying attention. I think that’s the biggest thing, paying attention to culture, toxicity and how you can help shift that.

Also, ask for help with this. There is no shame in this. I wouldn’t blame an individual restaurant. That’s just how our industry has become over the past few years.

I think asking for help, understanding and looking at how they can move the people talking to their team, what do they want to see? Also, being part of the change and leading and leading it, setting an example of it, you know?

Yes, there are all kinds of things they can do. When we first started In The Weeds, we asked, What is our ultimate mission and vision? It’s like, Well, let’s shift the culture, but that might take 10 to 50 years or whatever.

When COVID hit, and it really accelerated that culture change because people recognized how much they should take care of their mental and physical health.

The restaurants were like Here’s more pay, here’s the benefits, here it is, but then food costs went through the roof because of inflation, and so now they’re struggling.

The owners and the chefs and the managers also have to wash the dishes and work in every part of the restaurant. So, they no longer have the capacity to communicate with their team because they’re exhausted, they’re drained or whatever.

Q: What are some of your future plans for In The Weeds?

A: We are currently expanding into Montezuma and Archuleta County.

We’re kind of working with another organization like this out of Denver, but they’re kind of the urban piece and were the rural (piece).

I think, you know, it’s just being out there and supporting people and helping to create those opportunities for people and really changing the culture.

It also works with others, from business owners to other nonprofits. And it’s a significant industry, with all the food shows and documentaries on TV.

It really affects people’s lives, and it can be an amazing industry. That’s what I miss the most is making food and seeing someone eat my special dish and really love it.

It’s really cool, and I think that’s what’s really special about our industry, is that a lot of people come from broken families and they’re able to create a new family from working in a restaurant.

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