The food and beverage industry poses particular difficulties for those struggling with alcohol and substance addictions. As Justin Bazdarich of the Michelin-starred Oxomoco says, “It is easy to get caught up in the stresses of the industry: long hours on your feet, speed of service, and serving others can be daunting.” Such stress can lead to difficult habits and addictions, which is why Ben’s Friends is such a vital home for community.
Having started its Brooklyn chapter in 2022, Ben’s Friends is a coalition of sober individuals who create a support system for bartenders, waiters, chefs, and other restaurant and food and beverage industry workers who are or have battled addiction. Justin, along with Brian Abbott, leads the Brooklyn chapter, which meets every Monday at 10 AM at Oxomoco (128 Greenpoint Ave). All are welcome, and, below, Justin discusses the genesis and impact of this vital network.
Greenpointers: Hi Justin! Thanks for your work with Ben’s Friends; it’s such an important effort. Can you discuss, to the degree that you are comfortable, what your history and path has been like with Ben’s Friends?
Justin Bazdarich: My path with Ben’s Friends started just before COVID. I was introduced to the program by Gregory Gourdet, a long time friend and colleague. He introduced me to Ben’s Friends founders, Steve Palmer and Mickey Bakst, and we had breakfast in Manhattan. They explained the program and we discussed opening a NYC chapter of the Ben’s Friends meetings. At that time, I had been sober for around seven years. I have used 12-step programs to help me with my sobriety, and felt that this Ben’s Friends initiative could help so many people in the NYC food and bev industry. COVID slowed everything down, but I was able to join many Ben’s Friends meetings via Zoom. Once COVID subsided, I chatted with them again to open a chapter in Brooklyn at Oxomoco. We have our meetings every Monday morning at 10 AM.
What particular difficulties does the service industry present to people who are battling addiction?
It is easy to get caught up in the stresses of the industry. Long hours on your feet, speed of service, and serving others can be daunting. For me, I always wanted a reward after my shift. And the easiest way to feel taken care of and cut loose was to assemble a crew of employees and hit the bar as soon as we could leave the establishment. Many could have one drink and go home, but I was one that stayed til the place closed and then brought that party home to do it all over the next day. That hamster wheel gets tiresome and hard to exit.
How does Ben’s Friends provide a support system for those who need it?
The best part of Ben’s Friends is that it is easy to relate to your fellows that are going through the same thing. So many of us have been through or are going through these daily battles, and when you hear someone else share what they are going through, it can be a wave of relief. It feels good to know you are not alone and there are others that can help you stay level headed.
How long has the Brooklyn chapter been around, and are there any particular goals?
The Brooklyn chapter started in November of 2022. Our goal is to help as many people seek sobriety as we can. NYC is a big city with probably a million people in the industry. I know many need help and are ready to quit the lifestyle, and we want to keep the door open.
What would you say to those who are considering going to Ben’s Friends but are perhaps fearful to take that first step?
You are not alone. Just showing up helps not only you but all that are in the room. Every little bit helps.