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Watershed's Josh Gandee on Sobriety, Running and His New Podcast

The Watershed Kitchen & Bar beverage director has launched a new podcast called No Proof in collaboration with Focus on Health.

Columbus Monthly
Bartender Josh Gandee on one of his many runs Downtown

Josh Gandee is a runner. That description would have made Watershed Kitchen & Bar’s beverage director uncomfortable a while ago—like he was an impostor. But before I interviewed Gandee in November, I would often see him running Downtown and in the Brewery District. He seemed like a runner to me. 

“I would tell people that I ran but didn’t consider myself a runner until, one day, I just was,” says Gandee, who took up the hobby in the past three years. He sees a parallel between that realization and his own sobriety story, which he shares in the first episode of No Proof, his new podcast about sobriety and mindfulness, produced in collaboration with the hospitality industry website Focus on Health. 

“I did a sober October in 2017, and throughout my time in the industry, I’d never once even thought about taking a week off or any prolonged amount of time,” Gandee said to his first No Proof guest, Woodford Reserve brand ambassador Michael Toscano. Gandee recalls thinking, “What the hell, let’s see if I can do it.” 

When the month was up, as his friends were toasting their success, Gandee says he took an inventory of his feelings. “This is the best I’ve ever felt. This is the money that I saved. And all of this happened because I didn’t do one thing,” Gandee says to Toscano. 

Gandee’s daily mantra became “Just don’t drink.” Until one day, four months later, he outwardly proclaimed, “I don’t drink.” 

In the early days of his sobriety, Gandee says he had few friends in the industry who didn’t drink. He was searching for stories that he could relate to but came up empty. Through his podcast, Gandee hopes to share journeys like his own and those of others in the service industry. “Everything that I found online were those horror stories. It was all rock bottom. And I felt like I never hit a rock bottom. I mean, that’s not to say that I didn’t throw a few stones down the well, but I feel like I arrived to my sobriety safely,” he says. “I wish that I [heard] a story like mine when I was first looking to know that you can arrive gently to this decision, and it doesn’t have to involve handcuffs or the news.” 

Gandee hasn’t worked behind the bar at Watershed since last spring. The restaurant, which is operated by its sister distillery, decided early in the pandemic that it would hunker down and try to reopen in 2021. He feels fortunate that Watershed was in the financial situation, thanks to the distillery, that allowed it to close for the year. 

“Everything that I love about bartending has been either diluted or removed right now. Face-to-face contact, human touch, interaction. Not having physical and mental barriers between one another,” he says. 

When I ask Gandee why he runs, he says it helps fill a void that was left empty when he stopped drinking. And then he quotes from “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running,” the memoir by Haruki Murakami: “The point is whether or not I improved over yesterday. In long-distance running the only opponent you have to beat is yourself, the way you used to be.”

How to Listen: You can find new episodes of No Proof posted every other Wednesday on Spotify. Visit fohealth.org to learn more.