CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Struggling with addiction can be a lonely road, especially when surrounded by alcohol and drugs. One Charlotte group is hoping to change that by seeking solutions for people in the restaurant industry that want to get sober.
On Monday mornings inside a closed restaurant, you’ll find a small support group known as "Ben’s Friends."
"We have to take care of each other so that we can take care of everyone else,” Charlotte group leader and owner of Restaurant Constance chef Sam Diminich said.
Members of the group take care of each other by supporting their sober journeys in an industry that can be hard to stick with it.
“The restaurant industry is ridden with people who use and drink, it’s just kind of known,” server Sara Sheppard explained.
Sheppard said being surrounded by alcohol when serving cocktails and drinks to guests can be tough. Diminich added people often leave the jobs they love because of it.
"I think people early in sobriety or in long-term sobriety are still unsure whether or not [working in] food and beverage is an option for them, so we want to put a face to recovery and hopefully carry the torch,” Diminich said with a smile.
Ben's Friends was started in Charleston by the founder of The Indigo Road Hospitality Group, Steve Palmer. It’s an ode to his friend and partner Ben Murray, who died by suicide in 2016.
If you or a loved one are facing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, there is help readily available. You can call Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or chat with them online. There are also resources in North Carolina available here and in South Carolina available here.
"The story behind Ben’s Friends is a tragic one because Ben Murray was struggling in the darkness and wasn’t transparent, you know? Wasn’t willing to be vulnerable in order to access help," Diminich explained. "And, the impact it had on Steve was we have to do better.”
Inspired by the mission and after dealing with his own struggles, Diminich started a Charlotte chapter in 2018.
"As a sober chef, I’m like -- this is a cool opportunity for me to give back to this industry,” Diminich added.
There are now Ben's Friends groups all over the nation and many meet inside restaurants owned by Palmer, who is also sober.
The Charlotte group meets at the O-Ku in South End, which is also owned by Palmer, every Monday at 11 a.m.
There are also daily national Zoom meetings. Anyone curious about sobriety in the restaurant industry is welcome.
"It’s impossible to do it alone, and you don’t have to do it alone,” Sheppard said.
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