Food News Media’s 2016 HALO Awards recognize restaurants making meaningful contributions to a healthy, active lifestyle.
Early each morning, Scott Magnuson hangs a sign on his office door at The Argonaut asking for a few moments of tranquility. Employees know, for at least the next 30 minutes, to put any concerns or questions they might have about the coming day on hold. Continuing a practice first learned during a 21-day stay at an in-patient treatment center for substance abuse nearly five years ago, Magnuson meditates, slowing his mind down and turning the focus inward. Later, there will be time for invoices, customer concerns, and the mountain of other duties associated with the daily grind of operating a restaurant. “The benefits of meditation are amazing,” says Magnuson, the owner of the Washington, D.C., venue. “Especially in this industry when everything is so hands-on and fast-paced. Sometimes you lose track of yourself trying to take care of everything else.”
While addressing health and wellness might seem like a novel idea to prioritize, Magnuson says it’s a rampant problem throughout all levels of foodservice, and one that can lead to far bigger issues down the line if left neglected.
At Food News Media, the publisher of FSR and QSR magazines, we couldn’t agree more, and recognizing restaurants that are making meaningful contributions to a healthy, active lifestyle is a priority for our company. For a second year, Food News Media honors restaurants in both the full-service and quick-service sectors with its HALO Awards. The 2016 winners were recognized at a special awards presentation held in conjunction with the National Restaurant Association show on May 22.
At the Argonaut, winner of the Lifestyle Innovations category in the full-service segment, Magnuson and his wife, Shaaren Pine, are letting past struggles and personal trials write their restaurant’s resurgent story. The restaurant maintains a zero tolerance substance abuse policy for all employees and offers employees a $5 stipend per visit to a local gym up to the price of membership. Magnuson is also a willing teacher to anyone interested in learning about meditation. However, their most notable achievement is the creation of a support program. Argonaut is the home of Restaurant Recovery, a nonprofit program open to industry professionals coping with substance abuse. In addition to hosting group sessions on Monday afternoons, Restaurant Recovery aims to cover the expenses of anyone needing in-patient treatment. This extends from paying the cost of the treatement center, which Magnuson says can start at $20,000, to helping cover any family concerns left behind.
“There are so many logistics that people get scared about,” he says, adding that people are often worried about leaving their families or how are they going to pay their bills. “To convince people that they actually have to step away for a little bit is pretty hard.”
This is something Magnuson, who’s 37 years old, speaks openly and honestly about. In July 2011, he hit bottom and headed to Florida for treatment. Magnuson’s daughter, Ara, was 3. He understood his life, as well as his business and career—which began as a dishwasher when he was 14—were in real peril. One of the issues, and perhaps the driving inspiration behind Restaurant Recovery, is the fact that Magnuson’s workplace was a relentless incubator of addiction.
“[Substance abuse] is prevalent industrywide. We’re an industry where we make money off alcohol,” he explains. “And the other thing is, it takes a certain personality to work in a restaurant. When you get a lot of these personalities together and everybody’s been on a very fast-paced and adrenaline-rushing shift, you get done and all of sudden you’re trying to come down off the energy.”
Also, the restaurant setting can distort perspective. “One thing about the industry is that the bottoms are so much lower than in normal professions. I’ve always said, ‘If you have a problem and you work in a bar, you can always find somebody worse [off] to compare yourself to,’ whether it’s another employee, or the regular who is sitting at the bar drinking all day. … We’re firm believers that most restaurant people aren’t going to be able to go to an outpatient treatment center, continue to work in a restaurant, and stay sober. You have to get away for a minute and re-evaluate.”