Tastemakers 2021: Andy Smith, Founder of the Columbus Chapter of Ben’s Friends and Sobriety, Shaken
Restaurant work has a certain reputation: long hours, the physical toll, abusive bosses and, yes, alcohol. Andy Smith, a 25-year veteran of the hospitality industry, has seen it all while working at local spots including The Burgundy Room, Club 185, Sage American Bistro, The Sycamore and many others. The one-time hard partier has been fired from many restaurant jobs and done the firing himself. He’s seen the inside of jail cells. He’s gotten sober and relapsed before getting sober again 10 years ago. And when it comes to openly talking about addiction and sobriety, in recent years he’s seen “an absolute sea change for the industry I love.”
In My Camp
Smith is part of the reason why members of the industry are more willing to open up about their own struggles with substance abuse. In 2019, he founded the Columbus chapter of Ben’s Friends, a national nonprofit that is building a community for members of the hospitality industry living with addiction—the people who are “in my camp,” he says. The group meets at 11 a.m. every Sunday at Cameron’s American Bistro in Linworth.
“It’s the idea that it’s OK to talk about this stuff. Because if you’re not talking about it, it makes it bad. It makes it secret,” he says. “And restaurants are such a fantastic place to hide.” Smith says he isn’t trying to recruit anyone for sobriety, but the self-described “militant alcoholic” is here with a radical idea: It’s OK to be sober and work in restaurants. “It’s defiance,” he says. “It’s a bit of a fight. I’m fighting this idea, this stigma of, ‘Oh you work in a restaurant, that’s what you do.’”
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In addition to his work with Ben’s Friends (and his job as a server at The Avenue Steak Tavern in Dublin), Smith launched a pandemic project this year called Sobriety, Shaken. Smith’s new consulting venture makes the argument that a restaurant culture that supports sobriety can be good for the bottom line—less turnover, better productivity. Through Sobriety, Shaken he offers workshops and strategies to restaurant owners and operators looking to foster healthier workplaces and happier staffers.
When the COVID-19 outbreak hit, Ben’s Friends pivoted to holding meetings via Zoom, a change that the non-computer-savvy Smith resisted at first and eventually embraced once he realized, “It’s just a [damn] meeting. I know how to do this.” He now runs both local and national Zoom meetings for Ben’s Friends and says the organization is in the process of recruiting three or four more cities because of the reach it gained by going online. “No one saw that coming,” Smith says. Though in-person meetings have resumed, online gatherings look like they are here to stay. “I am very excited to see Ben’s Friends expand after COVID to more cities and [to] fully utilize our online presence,” he says.
Find more of Columbus' Rising Culinary Stars:Tastemakers Class of 2021
What did you learn during the pandemic? “Besides Ben’s Friends going online, I quickly realized I need to be around people. Both professionally and personally. I also got to know my wife. She’s actually quite lovely!”
What does Columbus need? “Better public transportation. I feel neighborhoods are somewhat insulated, and the food scene would expand if we connected the city better.”
Podcast recommendations: “Josh Gandee’s No Proof and Ray Chmielecki’s Spoon Mob. Both [are] Columbus-based but cover the country as far as food, wine, sobriety and the people who make those things happen.”
This story is from the December 2021 issue of Columbus Monthly.