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Restaurant workers often face addiction alone. An STL support group is changing that

Chef Max Bredenkoetter is shown working with a cutting board, while preparing food for an April 15 popup event.
Téo Gibbs
Chef Max Bredenkoetter prepares ingredients for an April 15 Temperance Kitchen pop-up event.

In 2021, Max Bredenkoetter knew he had a problem. A professional chef, he was used to watching his colleagues turn to alcohol to cope with the long hours and grueling work in the kitchen. He was just like them.

Eventually, the drinks became something more than a few shots shared among coworkers. He realized that he was using alcohol to counterbalance his depression and anxiety. It was an addiction.

“It got to a point where I just was self-medicating with alcohol to deal with symptoms,” he said Monday on St. Louis on the Air. “There's this long-term stereotype — the rock star, hard-partying chef. You work all day, and then you go out all night, you wake up and you do it again.”

It’s a stereotype that draws on a real problem. A 2015 industry survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found the highest rate of substance abuse to be in the food services industry.

Bredenkoetter quit drinking in 2021. He credits his sobriety to therapy and psychiatrist-prescribed medication, but he did so largely alone. At the time, he said he found no options for a support group that met around his schedule.

“For somebody who works a 9-to-5, they can go to that 7 p.m. meeting. But that's the prime work time for a lot of people within the restaurant industry,” he said. “Our work time is others’ play time.”

To address the “hole” in St. Louis’ sober support network, Bredenkoetter and others founded a local chapter of Ben’s Friends, a national network of hospitality and restaurant workers who are seeking sobriety. The new group meets at 10 a.m. every Monday at Olive + Oak (216 W. Lockwood Ave., Webster Groves, MO 63119). It held its first meeting this week.

It’s the start of something Bredenkoetter wishes existed during his own journey to sobriety. It was “the social connection, being able to feel comfortable talking about it, and finding peers with similar issues or whatever it may be. … It really helped me,” he said.

Bredenkoetter is also the founder of the pop-up event series Temperance Kitchen, which debuted its first multicourse dinner event on April 15. Proceeds from the events are being donated to Ben’s Friends.

Along with BredenKoetter, Sauce Magazine executive editor Meera Nagarajan joined Monday’s St. Louis on Air to discuss her publication’s latest “hit list” of new restaurants and bars in the St. Louis region.

Featured in this conversation:

  • Neon Greens (4176 Manchester Ave., St. Louis, MO 63110)
  • Manileño (3611 Juniata St., St. Louis, MO 63116) 
  • Tikka Tangy (13441 Olive Blvd., Chesterfield, MO 63017)
  • Amrut Fusion (17392 Chesterfield Airport Road, Chesterfield, MO 63005)

To hear more about Sauce Magazine’s April picks for dishes and drinks, and details about Temperance Kitchen, listen to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcast or Spotify or by clicking the play button below.

Meera Nagarajan and Max Bredenkoetter on 'St. Louis on the Air'

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Roshae Hemmings is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr. Send questions and comments about this story to talk@stlpr.org.

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Danny Wicentowski is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air."