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Why This Recovering Alcoholic Wants Restaurant Workers to Stop Meeting in Bars

Having struggled with addiction, Anthony Rudolf wanted to create a better space for restaurant industry workers to gather and exchange ideas than a crowded bar at 3 AM.

Even though Anthony Rudolf 's long career in the restaurant industry began around the same time he started drinking, one of these two important fundamentals of his life would ultimately outlast the other.

As a teenager in Pennsylvania, Rudolf attended a vocational high school for culinary arts and was working in kitchens by the age of 16. And while he had started drinking even before then, entering a work environment where alcohol is not only accepted but encouraged had a big impact on both his personal and professional life. It was Rudolf's frequent shift drinks at work that laid the foundation for his alcoholism.

I probably ended up in this career because of the access to that lifestyle, and stayed with it and fell in love with it because it provided me with the drug I needed.

"That's where it started. My problem is rooted in 'once I have one, I can't stop,'" he says. "I don't need to drink every day, but once it hits my system, that's it."

A drinking habit that had already begun to show signs of growing out of control had become the norm for Rudolf by the time he graduated from The Culinary Institute of America.

"It was progressively getting worse and worse," says Rudolf. "In many parts, I probably ended up in this career because of the access to that lifestyle, and stayed with it and fell in love with it because it provided me with the drug I needed."

Rudolf not only enjoyed the intoxication of drinking with his colleagues, but the sense of community that came along with it. At 16, he liked being able to have a beer with the bosses and coworkers he looked up to. "You drink your pint as you're breaking down your station," he says. "It's where you became one of the guys." In his twenties, when he was working in Michelin-starred restaurants in New York, getting wasted with his team at 3 AM was the peer group with which he felt most comfortable.

Rudolf's old drinking habits are a fair indicator of the norms within the industry, as employees of the bar and restaurant world are well-known for their partying and excessive ways.

According to the most recent report from The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) run by the US Department of Health and Human Services, bar and restaurant employees not only have one of the highest rates of alcohol use, but also have the highest rate of illicit drug use in comparison to every other profession.

Rudolf may have continued with his lifestyle of drinking heavily had he not been arrested for a DUI in 2005. Coming from another late night of drinking after his shift had ended, there were five passengers with him from his workplace when an NYPD patrol car pulled him over and officers approached with their guns drawn. His Breathalyzer test indicated a blood alcohol content of .16 percent that night, which is double the legal limit.

Meeting Space at Journee

The meeting space at Journee, founded by Anthony Rudolf. Photo courtesy of Journee.

It was Rudolf's court-mandated DUI education program that helped him recognize he had a problem. After getting sober, Rudolf continued working in the industry but stopped socializing with his peers in the way he was used to.

"The bars disappeared, and therefore a lot of my friends and acquaintances did, too. I didn't have that camaraderie of seeing people on a regular basis and shooting the shit at a bar at 3 o'clock in the morning anymore. Getting access to the things I needed to take the next steps of my career was very difficult, and that's how the concept of Journee began."

As its founder, Rudolf launched Journee in New York last year, more than a decade after realizing that there should be other ways for restaurant industry people to collectively mingle and network outside a bar.

At its core, Journee is a members-only club deeply rooted in education for bar and restaurant professionals. It's a community center offering a wide range of services in a healthy environment for anyone from backwaiters and chefs to accountants and lawyers to learn, connect, and develop contacts.

Pencils and Coffee at Journee

Photo courtesy of Journee.

Journee not only brings members of the industry together, but encourages meaningful conversations that will actually be remembered the next morning. Its educational programming—which includes everything from fish butchery demos by All'onda's Chris Jaeckle to wine tastings led by Terroir's Paul Grieco—leaves no hangover, and provides a place to meet like-minded individuals while the sun is still out. And for anyone looking to skip out on blacking out with their coworkers after they finish a shift, Journee's extensive classes are also available online through Journee TV.

Rudolf now claims more than ten years of sobriety. Despite that, he believes there's still a lot more work to be done within the industry to start a real dialogue about substance issues and asking for help.

"It's really about getting people open to talk about a vulnerability or perceived weakness like addiction, because we don't talk about it," he says. "I think one of the biggest plagues in our profession and industry is that vulnerability equals a weakness—it does not equal a strength. It's a 'yes, Chef!' world where you do and do until you fail or succeed. And in that machismo environment, saying 'I need help' is not a thing."