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Philip Speer’s path to sobriety additionally led to a brand new type of restaurant

{Photograph} by Sydney Gawlik

Philip Speer got here of age as a chef within the late 90s, at a time when what he referred to as “Bourdain tradition” loomed giant in lots of kitchens.

Over greater than a decade at eating places in Austin and Houston, as he racked up accolades and a number of James Beard Award nominations, Speer and his co-workers had been swept up within the work exhausting, play exhausting ethos popularized by the late superstar chef.

“Everybody’s a pirate,” Speer recalled. “That is how we do it. We band collectively, we work our asses off, after which we get together our butts off. … That was the norm, that was the tradition.”

It was a harmful routine for anybody to fall into, however significantly for an addict like Speer. The life-style had a method of each fueling one’s habit and camouflaging it.

“The ways in which we labored allowed it and inspired it and perpetuated it,” he mentioned. On the similar time, it coated up the truth that he had a ingesting drawback. “I believed that it was simply a part of the tradition that I used to be embedded in.”

In some methods, it was: Alcohol abuse has been widespread in eating places for many years. in to federal research printed in 2012, 11.8% of foodservice employees surveyed mentioned that they had drank closely up to now month—probably the most of any business moreover mining (17.5%) and building (16.5%).

“We band collectively, we work our asses off, after which we get together our butts off. … That was the norm, that was the tradition.”

Speer described it as a “hazy cycle” of working and partying that was inspired by restaurant managers and house owners due to the way it saved workers tight-knit and locked in. A tough day’s work was usually rewarded with free alcohol. Then, Speer and his colleagues would head to close by business bars to carouse with different restaurant of us. The merry-go-round would come to a halt solely when somebody acquired damage or arrested, Speer mentioned, nevertheless it by no means stopped for lengthy.

Over time, Speer acquired various wake-up calls that his habits was tied to one thing deeper than his career. I’ve racked up a number of DWIs. His marriage to him failed, together with different relationships. He did not at all times do his finest at work.

I ignored the pink flags till I could not any longer. One evening in October 2014, simply days after the opening of his new Austin restaurant, St. Philip, Speer rolled over his automobile whereas intoxicated and crashed right into a dwell fuel principal. He was discovered unconscious within the grass, nonetheless sporting his chef uniform, in accordance with information reviews.

He went to jail after which to rehab. “In some methods my hand was compelled,” he mentioned.

Speer accomplished the normal 12-step program, which he mentioned labored for him, although it may not work for everybody. However he was hesitant to return to eating places after getting sober. “I did not know if I may,” he mentioned.

I’ve consulted for some time. Finally, he got here round to the thought of ​​opening a restaurant once more, one that will have a decidedly completely different tradition than others he’d labored at.

“I believed different individuals may work right here that wish to keep sober,” he mentioned.

“It is simply altering the tradition, and there is so some ways you may change the tradition.”

He went about making a office surroundings that de-emphasized alcohol. At Comedor, there isn’t any such factor as shift drinks. Cash that will have usually been spent on free booze for workers was used to purchase season tickets to Austin FC soccer video games. There is a working membership and free weekly yoga courses for hospitality employees. Visitors pay a 2% surcharge that helps pay for workers’ well being advantages.

The restaurant would not essentially hunt down staff who’re in restoration. However, “In case you’re identified to have a tradition that could be a little bit completely different, the suitable individuals will come,” he mentioned.

Comedor can also be dwelling to weekly conferences of Ben’s Pals—a nationwide help group for hospitality employees who wish to attain or keep sobriety. Speer grew to become president of the Austin chapter simply earlier than the pandemic, and has watched the group develop within the years since. I’ve credited the group for serving to him to stay sovereign.

“I believe a lot is simply being linked to individuals,” he mentioned. With Ben’s Pals, “you understand you at all times have somebody to look upon, somebody to name. … Perhaps I discuss to a few of these individuals and type of discuss to myself off a ledge as we speak.”

That type of openness and vulnerability amongst restaurant workers will go a good distance towards easing the business’s substance abuse drawback, he mentioned.

And although eating places have come a good distance from the times of “Bourdain tradition,” he mentioned, alcohol remains to be a part of their DNA. Speer gave the instance of menus that encourage friends to purchase the kitchen workers a beer.

“Why is that your reward system?” he mentioned. “Why not purchase the kitchen workers a tattoo?”

Small cultural shifts like those Speer has applied at Comedor are one other resolution.

“It is simply altering the tradition,” he mentioned, “and there is so some ways you may change the tradition.”

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