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CHOW, Wellness for Hospitality: Let’s Talk About It

I looked like a successful chef … well-traveled, featured on TV and in magazines, engaged in community events. Any observer might have seen me and thought that I was living the dream; but the truth was that my life was ruining my life.

It’s not uncommon for folks who work in restaurants to forego their own health and wellness for the sake of creating unbeatable experiences for diners and generating profits for restaurant owners. I was no exception.

In the name of this service to others — the “more, more, more! now, now, now!” culture of hospitality — I worked too much, slept too little, drank too often, and isolated myself from “civilians,” those not in the service industry. I began to feel hopeless that I would ever find a more balanced way to live, work, or be a human ‘being’ rather than a human ‘doing’ while working in restaurants.

When I was nearly at my breaking point, I turned to the restaurant owner at the time and said, “I don’t know how long I can go on like this.” But he didn’t have anything useful to offer me, he told me to “just take some time off.” As if that was an option in an industry that’s been understaffed, not just for years, but decades. I shouldn’t have expected better. He was my boss, after all, not a therapist; and he lived the same unmanageable lifestyle I did.

What I wished he could have done was point me to a group like CHOW — Culinary Hospitality Outreach and Wellness.

That’s what I found when I joined CHOW … I was reminded that I’m stronger, smarter, and more dimensional than I give myself credit for; that I’m not just some misfit pirate, but rather a member of a fantastic community of artisans, tradesmen, and craftspeople.

Chefs Working in KitchenBut nothing like CHOW existed six years ago. I needed someone in the industry, in similar circumstances, to tell me it was okay to not be okay, and that, in fact, I didn’t have to “suck it up and keep going.” I needed someone who was willing to listen and share their own path through the chaos of industry life; not encourage me to ‘just be grateful’ that I had a job. What I needed was someone who had, themselves, gotten real help and could help me see a new way forward, too.

That’s what I found when I joined CHOW. Industry professionals and vets who understood. I didn’t get empty encouragement. I wasn’t told that I needed to quit my job to recover from the effects of it. I was reminded that I’m stronger, smarter, and more dimensional than I give myself credit for; that I’m not just some misfit pirate, but rather a member of a fantastic community of artisans, tradesmen, and craftspeople.

CHOW started in 2018 after an article ran about John Hinman, Denver pie maker and founder of CHOW, alerting to mental health stresses in hospitality (no coincidence, also at the loss of Anthony Bourdain). The industry responded, initially through in-person meetings and shifting to virtual meetings over the pandemic (getting even more reach), collectively joining in numbers over the years in a safe space to share stories of pain, recovery, and improved mental health.

Photo of chef leader in the workplace
CHOW offers six weekly hybrid or virtual meetings (four mixed groups, one for all women, and one for Spanish speakers), which are attended mostly by Coloradans, though it’s not unusual to have someone pop in from Spain, England, Canada, or Australia.

Today, CHOW offers six weekly hybrid or virtual meetings (four mixed groups, one for all women, and one for Spanish speakers), which are attended mostly by Coloradans, though it’s not unusual to have someone pop in from Spain, England, Canada, or Australia. These discussion groups allow people like me to pause, reconsider what matters, and create community outside of the workplaces.

CHOW has guest speakers span from Johnson & Wales alums to farming professionals, including life coaches sparking conversations with the help of Event Producer Lara Smedley. CHOW also offers a free, industry specific, mental health course for folks who want to know how to take better care of themselves, their coworkers, and others.

When attendees need more than peer support, CHOW connects them with community-based resources, such as KHESED Wellness. Through partnerships like this, CHOW has been able to extend more than 700 hours of free mental health counseling to hospitality workers since 2020.

So we don’t lose anyone else to suicide, addiction or struggles surrounding mental health — CHOW supports the mental health, recovery, and wellness needs of service industry workers. If you’d like to do the same, come join us! You can also volunteer or donate by heading to the website below.

 

Coming soon:
We’re creating a list of actionable tools that folks can use easily and for little to no cost in their daily work and home lives. We hope to have them compiled soon and will share them on our social media, newsletter, and blog. If anyone is doing something at their workplace that is working, please share with us so each business doesn’t have to recreate the wheel, to Erin Boyle, executive director, [email protected].

Lastly, we’ve just finished writing a workbook that is designed for the hospitality industry to use either in addition to meetings and therapy, on their own, or with friends. We hope the tools will help everyone have a well-rounded healthy life. These will be ready by mid July 2022.

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