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We Are Dry But We Can Work With It – Jordan’s Sober Story

By Posted in Going Out

We are about to run our first event for the hospitality industry in collaboration with Jordan aka Dry Chef. Jordan explains his motivation for setting up this event with Club Soda.


Work and drink

The restaurant and hospitality industry is renowned for high level of alcohol and drug misuse amongst its workers. It can be argued that the industry attracts a certain type of person, or that it turns you into a certain type of person. For me personally, the allure of alcohol in my workplace, was too much, and that so much of it deserved a scholarly approach Intrigued me. That drinking and being ‘well-drunk’ was a part of career progression ticked a few boxes.

That was in 1999 and in 2016, after years of knowing that I had a habit, it finally became unsustainable and I threw in the towel. 27 months later I am still sober.

On paper, I chose to quit at probably the most inopportune time. I had just opened a restaurant, based in a Micro-distillery in my home town of Durban SA. Our business partner ran the distilling side of the operation and my partner and I ran the restaurant side.

Quitting whilst working with booze?

One of the reasons besides denial that it took me so long to even attempt going dry was that drinking had become the coping mechanism of my stress levels caused by work. Drinking culture is so ingrained in restaurant culture I wasn’t sure that I could remain dry and stay in the industry. I have cooked for the majority of the last 14 years and I was at a loss as to what direction I would take if I choose abstinence. Would I be able to change careers, cope being constantly surrounded by booze, what about cooking with alcohol and how would I taste things?

At the end of the day, now being an owner of an establishment, one that actually distilled on site, I would have had really easy access to a wonderful range of top notch booze. All the professional reasons for imbibing, experimenting, creating and drinking were there, doubly so now as I had ownership and was proud of what we were trying to create. But I knew it would be the death of me. I was already choosing to drink over eat most days, and while beer was my poison (the craft brewery underneath us never knew of the cash injection they lost out on) I felt there was a real chance I would keep my consumption volume up, but take advantage of the craft gins, homemade tonics and plenty more…

Sober working in restaurants

On the 3rd of February, 2016, I had my last drink. We ran the restaurant until it closed sadly at the beginning of this year. During that time I managed to stay sober while performing all my duties, the main one of which was selling the Distillery to our guests, explaining the process of distilling, designing the craft cocktail list, selling product out our cellar door, hosting spirit tastings, spirit training, cocktail making, you name it.

Many (sober) people that I sought advice from prior to my sobriety warned me about staying in my industry, a few told me flat out that I would relapse only due to this reason. I have devoted so much of my life to this industry I was too scared to even try something else and made the decision to carry on, put the blinkers up in my head and just get on with it.

Sadly the restaurant closed and I came back to London. I’ve felt the need for the first time since I stopped drinking to be sociable again, to take myself out of a self imposed isolation and get back on with my life. I surfed a lot in Durban and it felt like that was all I needed to stay strong. Honestly, re-immersing myself back into this crazy city has been hard. I took up a job as Head Chef of a popular and fast paced restaurant and over the last few months I’ve realized my coping mechanisms where extremely unbalanced and that I still have tons of work on me, my issues and character flaws that trigger them.

Then again another conundrum, most of the social dry meetups I could find are, obviously on the weekends. That’s when we, in the industry, are working our hardest. So it got me thinking that there must be more people like me in this city. Dry/ mindful or recovering substance abusers who may be in the same boat as me. Trying to find sober friends but committing to the hospitality lifestyle. So many conversations with so many colleagues while I was drinking, all lamenting their chosen form of escapism, so many people drinking to forget the stresses of a job they only got into at some point because of a passion for something.

My goals for the future

I hope to create a really fun social group and to inspire others in the industry who are concerned about their consumption. We are all the same bunch of misfits we were before we started in the industry, still the same outgoing, energized and possibly a little loopy, just because we are dry doesn’t mean we can’t meet up, talk shop and argue about which department does the most work. Just because we are dry, it doesn’t mean we can’t do our jobs, and do it well. We are dry, but we can work with it.

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