Chef Scott Crawford knows firsthand the challenges of working in a restaurant while battling – and recovering – from an addiction that constantly wants to pull you apart.
That’s why he wants to bring together people in the food and beverage industry who battle substance abuse and drug and alcohol addiction. While Crawford has been sober for 12 years, he wants to keep others from being forced to exit the kitchens and restaurants they love.
“For some people, if it’s life or death, it’s time get away from it,” said Crawford, 44, an acclaimed chef who owns Crawford and Son restaurant on Person Street and has made his career in fine dining.
“Others just need some support, some mentoring,” he said. “Some people they can relate to.”
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Crawford hopes a new support group called Ben’s Friends will be that outlet. Ben’s Friends is for chefs, servers, bartenders and others who struggle with staying healthy while working long hours, in stressful situations and with easy access to alcohol. He plans to hold weekly meetings at his restaurant each Sunday at 11 a.m. starting this weekend.
Ben’s Friends was started in Charleston, S.C., by Mickey Bakst, general manager of the Charleston Grill, and Steve Palmer, who owns several Charleston restaurants. Both have experienced their own battles with addiction. They named the group to honor the late chef Ben Murray, who died by suicide in September after struggling with alcoholism.
Crawford attended one of their meetings this month while attending Charleston Wine + Food, a major industry event. After leaving the meeting, he got a text message from someone in Raleigh who confided that they needed his help.
“It’s time to do this in Raleigh,” Crawford said.
That had been part of the plan anyway. Crawford is friends with Bakst and Palmer, and Murray, too. He cooked with Murray last summer at an opening of one of Palmer’s restaurants. After Palmer and Bakst launched the group in Charleston, Crawford planned to start an unofficial one here.
Then he decided to make his personal struggles public, and the timing of starting Ben’s Friends in Raleigh became more urgent. He shared his story of drug and alcohol addiction, coupled with a diagnosis of Type 1 diabetes, with The News & Observer last month. Since then, he has heard from people who learned they could turn to him for support.
The text message he got in Charleston came from someone who had read the story.
“The reason I opened up and have started to share publicly my struggles is the hope that I can inspire or help other people,” he said. “That article just really cemented that.”
While Crawford is a supporter of programs like Alcoholics Anonymous, Ben’s Friends allows for a different structure. Participants gather to talk about how addiction relates specifically to the food and hospitality industry. It’s a conversation that’s happening more and more throughout the industry around the country.
“There’s a little bit of a stigma,” Crawford said of groups like AA and Narcotics Anonymous. While he doesn’t agree about the stigma, he knows the setting might not work for everyone. He wants Ben’s Friends to be an alternative.
In addition to having weekly conversations at his restaurant, they also will raise money for those who can’t afford counseling or treatment or whose insurance doesn’t cover it.
“It’s really just a group of people who get together and talk about a topic,” he said. “We’re all in this thing together. That’s the message we want to send.”
Jessica Banov: 919-829-4831; @JessicaBanov
Ben’s Friends will meet every Sunday starting March 19 at Crawford and Son, 618 N. Person St., Raleigh. Those who wish to contact Scott Crawford may email him at email@example.com.