Steve Palmer and Mickey Bakst founded Ben’s Friends in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2016 in honor of Ben Murray, a lifelong chef who died of suicide after struggling with alcoholism for many years.
“Ben’s Friends exists to provide a safe haven and an anonymous, judgement-free forum for workers in an industry that has one of the highest rates of substance abuse in the country,” Palmer says.
The food and beverage industry support group is not affiliated with Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, but Ben’s Friends is built on acceptance and gratitude. Palmer says it shares an important commonality with organizations like AA and NA. “The only thing you need to bring through the door is a desire to stop drinking or using.”
Anyone is welcome and the environment is safe and constructive.
“By coming together, by starting a dialogue, and by acknowledging that substance abuse cannot be overcome in isolation or by willpower alone, Ben’s Friends hopes to write a new chapter in the lives of our country’s talented and dedicated F&B professionals and prevent tragedies from becoming all too common. We are just like you and here to help.”
It is not only the shame and pain around addiction that may keep people in the restaurant industry from seeking help, Palmer says. It’s the cultural norms surrounding working hard and playing hard.
“All is forgiven if they just show up the next day to work,” he says. But problems can go much deeper. Palmer encourages restaurant workers to ask teammates how they’re keeping it together. “Just not being scared to ask those questions is important. Do not turn a blind eye.”
While Ben’s Friends was founded in the southeast, it’s taking its mission across the country, having recently expanded to the West Coast.
To start a Ben’s Friends group or find more information, visit www.BensFriendsHope.com.