Whenever the Rev. Rob Dewey goes out to eat, he carries with him a slim stack of printed cards. Each one is about three times the size of a business card and, he hopes, more meaningful to the restaurants at which he leaves them.
“The chaplaincy is a known, trusted, caring spiritual and psychological presence,” says the informational card, which Dewey started distributing after the Greater Charleston Restaurant Association made him an associate member. Dewey, who for 28 years ran the Coastal Crisis Chaplaincy, offered his pastoral services to the organization after realizing that members of the food-and-beverage industry are facing many of the same job stressors as the first responders he’s long counseled.
Studies show the hospitality industry has a higher rate of substance use disorder than any other employment sector, with 17 percent of its workers dependent on drugs or alcohol. Experts say long hours, low pay, an unrelenting kitchen culture and the physical toll of restaurant work contribute to the mental health issues that bedevil the food-and-beverage industry.
“These folks are going through even more than what I thought,” Dewey says. “I’m not out to proselytize, but I’m out to let people know that they’re loved and supported.”
According to a GCRA spokesperson, Dewey is tasked with providing "assistance through spiritual support counseling to members during a time of crisis or times in need.” In practice, that means he works privately with anyone who phones or e-mails him for help, and leads group sessions for workplaces that have endured a shared trauma.
Dewey twice visited Tavern & Table after its manager was shot in the back during an April robbery. He also conducted a candlelight vigil at Virginia’s on King, where chef Shane Whiddon last August was fatally shot by a former employee. The night before the restaurant reopened, Dewey asked servers and bartenders to read scriptural selections aloud.
“It created some positive energy to let them know God cared about them,” says Dewey, who notes few downtown food-and-beverage workers in their 20s and 30s belong to a religious congregation. When he and his wife recently took a restaurant worker to church services, he says, it was the second time she’d ever stepped inside a church.
“They don’t have relationship that their parents did with someone who can offer spiritual guidance,” Dewey says. “(GCRA Industry Workforce & Programs director) Jill (Maynard) has called me on several occasions when bad stuff has happened that doesn’t make the news; just to let folks know they’re cared for.”
Many of the people referred to Dewey by restaurant owners or managers are confronting addiction; he says he works closely with local support group Ben’s Friends to connect them with appropriate resources.
“I just feel like we in the church have been neglectful in getting out of the church and getting to where people are,” Dewey says. “We’re responsible to get outside of our four walls.”
Although Dewey is affiliated with GCRA, his services are available free to anyone in the food-and-beverage community. For more information, call 843-720-9600 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.