To provide support to staff within the hospitality industry and create a sustainable restaurant community
A local restaurant community and culture which promotes healthy lifestyle choices, safe and comfortable spaces for open discussion, and seeking support for service industry-driven issues.
Co-Founder & Executive Director
What up? I’m Blaine. I’m a line cook by heart and humanitarian by design and I would love to tell you a story...
I love the restaurant industry, and as so many have experienced, I went through a phase of burnout. The kitchen’s been my world for many years as sous chef at Carver Brewing Company and El Moro Spirits & Tavern. Being sous chef means you’re backup for the executive chef and...oh yeah, everybody! My work weeks exceeded 70 hours (not required by employers) and my phone was constantly pinging with work - except for a few blissful hours between 12am and 4am.
It should come as no surprise that this way of living came at the expense of my personal life and relationships. While open communication in the workplace was something I prided myself in, at home was another story...
One July, my partner of four years asked if we could “talk.” I suggested we talk in October when work slows down. Welp, she left in September and I wouldn’t have blamed her if she left any earlier with the way I was acting. Sometimes, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
In the past––and just as much today––there has been an aura in the industry that helping yourself can be seen as weak. Talking about emotions is not masculine. Just put your head down and cook the food. I was burned out from the pressure of needing to be in charge of...everything. Sure, I was making decent money but at the cost of my physical and mental health. I made a half-hearted attempt at counseling, but they didn’t have an opening for two months. So, to the bottle it was.
Somewhere within me an idea was forming. A past co-worker, John Rowe, was getting a degree in social work on the side, and when we lost one of our prep chefs to overdose, I pressed John, “When you graduate...therapy for chefs, man.”
In the meantime, I turned to the medication of chefs everywhere: alcohol. I hit the bottle pretty hard, numbing myself until I couldn’t feel any sort of way: happy, mad or sad.
Knowing something had to change, I put in notice at work to take a work-study position at a Wisconsin Farm to Table. Before starting the position, I had one last night out at a concert with my cousin before “cleaning up.” The night ended in a drunken bicycle accident in which he cracked his skull. I was arrested for carrying an empty bag of substance, and waiting in jail with the blood of my cousin up to my elbows. I wondered if he was still alive (he was, thankfully). Once out, facing 6 - 20 years of jail time, I was sure I didn’t have the position in Wisconsin anymore.
An amazing chef and mentor at the Farm to Table encouraged me to still come to work, albeit a few days late. To give a little more context, this same summer the culinary rock star Anthony Bourdain committed suicide and chefs the world over were greiving the passing of their hero––myself included. In Wisconsin, I got much-needed counseling and made it 47-days sober. That chef assigned us a project: How do you save the world?
After a breakdown on my wall, I concluded that it starts with the individual, and why not start with the hospitality industry? The industry that is in the business of taking care of others. With great food, drink, and atmosphere, we create an experience that can impact anyone’s day for the better. But there’s no denying what a challenge this presents, as this field is rife with long-glamorized burnout, addictions, and substance abuse.
At the end of that summer, John reached out to me and said, “Let’s do it. Let’s write the next chapter, and start making meaningful changes in the mental and physical health of restaurant workers.” We began with support groups in Durango––a town with an astronomical restaurants-per-capita––where I had worked for years in kitchens and already knew many of the people and their struggles in our local restaurant industry.
We set-up In the Weeds, figuring it could take a decade to affect this worldwide industry, a task nothing short of mountain-moving. A silver lining to the pandemic, COVID catalyzed a culture change as workers in every industry woke-up to how the strains of their job(s) can wreak havoc on the mind, body, and soul. We applied for nonprofit status pre-COVID, approved just one month after the first shutdown and were granted funding almost immediately! We had no idea we’d be in the depths of it so soon!
And yet, as I fumble to put a finger on an ever-moving pulse, I am so grateful to be where we are. We have positioned ourselves to support all service industry workers, from back of house to front of house, from entry-level employee to owner. We will continue to facilitate meeting their needs in the pursuit of sustainable, happy, and balanced lives.
The whole world is currently in flux. Help us continue this positive momentum in the service industry for the better while we have the opportunity.
“For the world to see we can change it for the better, and for us to see that we can change within ourselves.”
– Blaine Bailey
In the Weeds is a registered 501(c)3 not-for-profit and our mission is to provide support to staff within the hospitality industry and to create a sustainable restaurant community.