Mocktails are on the rise, and sobriety is quickly becoming more mainstream. Even major corporations are jumping at the chance to offer high-margin no- and low-alcohol beverages.
But is a sober dance party any fun? And what’s there to do in an online membership for people looking to change their relationship with alcohol?
In this episode, we discuss sober and sober curious communities with Molly Ruggere of Counterculture Club, Sam Diminich of Your Farms Your Table, and Robbie Shaw of The Champagne Problems Podcast and Eventide Recovery.
For many people, the pandemic shed light on unhealthy drinking habits. With much of the in-person substance abuse support moving online, global, digital communities now exist to aid in the journey to recovery. We explore all of that in this roundtable co-hosted by Jillian and our senior producer, David Grabowski.
This is a fun and enlightening conversation that illustrates the power of online communities in bringing people together and forming life-changing bonds. Join us for this deep dive into the societal shift coming to a bar near you!
Molly Ruggere is a Certified Life Coach, Alcohol Freedom Coach and Founder of Counterculture Club, a global alcohol-free community based in Charlotte, NC that offers private and group alcohol freedom coaching, monthly membership, and events (virtual and in-person) for individuals who want to build authentic relationships, socialize without drinking and counter the mainstream idea that we need alcohol to have fun, fulfilling lives.
As someone who once thought alcohol was a requirement for socializing and fun, Molly’s mission is to de-stigmatize the idea that you have to have a “problem” to question your relationship to alcohol and demonstrate how magical an alcohol-free or alcohol-reduced lifestyle can be. Counterculture Club is proof that it is more than possible, but also incredibly rewarding, to create deep friendships without alcohol and have a rich, exciting social life. She views going alcohol-free and/or being mindful about your drinking is a choice to be celebrated, not questioned or shamed.
Molly firmly believes that giving up alcohol was the single best decision she’s ever made in her life, and is committed to showing others how much fun and freedom can be had once you embrace the idea that you don’t need booze to be your best self.
In addition to working as an entrepreneur and coach, Molly is also a writer who regularly contributes stories to local and national publications about how to live an alcohol-free lifestyle.
When she’s not coaching, growing Counterculture Club or writing, Molly enjoys reading, going to concerts, hitting yoga classes, trying new restaurants, traveling and spending time with her friends, family and teacup poodle Ziggy.
- Read Molly's stories at MollyRuggere.com, or connect with her on Instagram
- Find out more about Counterculture Club
- Connect with Counterculture Club on Instagram and Facebook
Robbie Shaw is a Recovery and Wellness Coach and the creator and lead host of The Champagne Problems Podcast. Robbie received his BA from UNC Chapel Hill where he played on the junior varsity basketball team and then went on to receive his masters degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from the University of Southern Maine.
Robbie has battled addiction since an early age and quit drinking alcohol and doing hard drugs at age 29. He is open about ocasionally struggling with other substances during the last 16 years but is now completely free and clean of all mind altering chemicals including a 27 year nicotine addiction.
Robbie created The Champagne Problems Podcast over a year ago with the mission of exploring all facets of alcohol and alcohol culture so people can be overly informed in order to make rational decisions around their own relationships with alcohol. Robbie has a private practice, Eventide Recovery, where he provides recovery, sobriety and wellness coaching, crisis management, and consultation.
Originally from Myrtle Beach, Diminich grew up in the restaurants of both his father and grandfather, who came to the US from Italy at age 16 – a classic immigrant story of seeking opportunity in America. After working his way up the ranks in his family’s restaurants and training with other local chefs, Diminich attended the Culinary Institute of America where he graduated with a degree in Culinary Arts.
After graduation, Diminich trained under Chef and Owner Georges Perrier at Le Bec Fin in Philadelphia. He then headed back to the South where he was Sous Chef at BLT Steak in the Ritz Carlton Charlotte. He later worked under Executive Chef Raffaele Dall’Erta at The Hampton’s Restaurant in Sumter, SC, and most recently was Executive Chef of Upstream Restaurant in the SouthPark area of Charlotte. In 2020 Sam appeared on Beat Bobby Flay on the Food Network, taking down the legendary Chef in an epic ‘battle’ of Lobster Risotto.
Chef Diminich is wildly passionate about working with local ingredients. His approach to food is to honor the ingredients by using sound techniques with a balance of flavors and textures and by blending traditional and contemporary flavors. His goal is to prepare food that brings a celebratory influence to the meal experience as the centerpiece in the story of our lives with our friends and family.
In This Episode
- How Molly, Robbie, and Sam created sobriety-focused communities and businesses
- Why societal views around alcohol are changing
- The no- and low-alcohol beverage market and sobriety becoming mainstream
- How the pandemic affected people’s relationship with drinking
- Substance abuse problems in the food and beverage industry
- How Molly runs her digital community for the sober curious
- Managing a global community
- Balancing in-person and online events and meetups
- Creating a community around a sobriety-focused podcast
- In-person sober parties that are actually a ton of fun
- This Naked Mind by Annie Grace [Amazon affiliate link]
- Quit Like a Woman by Holly Whitaker [Amazon affiliate link]
- Say Grace by Steve Palmer [Amazon affiliate link]
- Drop the Rock by Bill P, Todd Weber and Sara S. [Amazon affiliate link]
- Find out more about Ben's Friends
- Connect with @TeamSPI on Twitter
The CX 057: A Roundtable on Sobriety Communities with Molly Ruggere, Robbie Shaw, and Sam Diminich
Jillian Benbow: Hey, just a heads-up, this episode contains some explicit language, some enthusiastic nouns and verbs, and it may not be appropriate for younger audiences. Headphones are advised, thank you!
Molly Ruggere: There was just an article in Vogue that was like, "Is no one drinking anymore?" People either realized that they just drank by default in social situations, but they didn't really need it. Or a lot of women in particular, I think women's stress related drinking during the pandemic went up by 41%.
So a lot of clients I've seen didn't have a “problem” until the pandemic, and then they were putting away a bottle of wine at night and they realized they don't know how to live without that being a part of their lives.
Jillian Benbow: Welcome to The Community Experience Podcast. I am Jillian Benbow. You may know me. I host this thing. And today, I have a super special guest that I've been begging to come on the show with me to co-host, I should say, super special co-host. My colleague and the man behind the scenes running this show, David Grabowski, our senior podcast producer. You've probably heard his name in the outro. David, hi.
David Grabowski: Woo-hoo. If people have stuck around to the outro. No, it's great to be on the show, to be behind the mic, out from behind one thing and out behind another thing.
Jillian Benbow: Behind the computer screen. So, behind it now. I don't know. We'll work-
David Grabowski: Behind the mixing board to behind the microphone.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, normally-
David Grabowski: In the so-called booth. Whatever. Metaphors.
Jillian Benbow: ... Normally, David's bothering me about like, "Have you done this recording? Have you done that?" And helping me with research and just doing a ton, frankly. Him and his team do all the editing and all the ad placements, and just sprucing it up, shining it up so that we sound way cooler than we are. Yeah. And so, how fun to get David-
David Grabowski: Even more cool than you already are, how about that?
Jillian Benbow: Oh, I set that one up for a home run and it worked. Anyways, David and I have a blast at work in general. So this was really fun to do together. And, David, you kind of set this whole episode up, so I'm just going to throw you under the... No. I'm going to pass you the mic, not throw you under the bus, and tell us what we're doing here.
David Grabowski: We are talking about sobriety, and specifically its sober communities. I noticed, as I think did a lot of people in the last couple of years, probably partly exacerbated by the pandemic, there's just been more and more non-alcoholic beverage options. And I've seen more and more non-alcoholic beers, Lagunitas brewing, which is pretty notable up here in California, where I am. They have a happy refresher now that's 0% alcohol. And so, I've noticed this happening. I've also noticed friends of mine, people in my personal life confronting their relationship with drugs and/or alcohol.
And I wanted to talk to the people behind the communities that are facilitating some of those changes and find out. Is this a trend? What's causing this? Where is this all headed? And for the people out there who are leading their own communities, what can you take away from people who are leading communities that are doing work in vulnerable, very personal spaces, and creating really meaningful, lifelong change for a lot of their participants? So, a lot to be gained here I think from looking into these communities.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, I agree. Before we hit record, we were talking about how do you describe this. And we decided it's a community that is counter-cultural. And the idea of just being at least in the Western world where we live, the U.S., drinking is very just part of the norm. And so, choosing to be sober for whatever your reasons other than pregnancy, but choosing to be sober, people often... I've noticed, in my personal life, almost like they see something in themselves they don't like. When you're like, "Yeah. I've taken a break from drinking or I don't drink." And they get kind of offended and I think it's because they are mirroring how they feel with their relationship to alcohol, and they take it out on you.
And I'm not sober, and I've had that experience where I've just chosen to not drink sometimes. And as we say somewhere in the interview, I mentioned people usually first think, "Oh, you're pregnant. Because you have to be. Surely you're pregnant. Why else would you not drink alcohol?" And then we're like, "No, I just don't want to drink." They either don't believe you or kind of like, "Why would you do that?" And it's not about you at all. It's weird. It's weird.
So, I can't wait for everyone to listen to this. It's a panel of three. So we have three people who turns out all know each other in person and have done events together. So, it's kind of fun to get them together. But today we're talking to Molly Ruggere, who started Counterculture Club. Sam Diminich, who is a chef. He is the executive chef at Your Farms Your Table. And also works with Ben's Friends hope, which is kind of like a 12-step, specific to food and bev industry, or it's a little different, we'll get into it. And Robbie Shaw, who hosts Champagne Problems. It's a podcast and is also has a recovery business, Eventide Recovery. He works in addiction management. I'm going to stop talking. And let's get into this episode this week on The Community Experience Podcast.
David Grabowski: Woo-hoo.
Jillian Benbow: All right. Welcome to this episode. We are doing something different and I'm delighted to introduce a whole slew of people right now. So, I'm going to start with Robbie Shaw. Robbie? Hello?
Robbie Shaw: Hello. Thanks for having me on.
Jillian Benbow: Of course. Sam Diminich.
Sam Diminich: Hello.
Jillian Benbow: Hello, Sam. And last, but certainly not least, Molly Ruggere.
Molly Ruggere: Hello.
Jillian Benbow: And you may be asking why do you have so many people on the pod and that's because David, who is our senior podcast producer, had a great idea of doing a round table discussion on sober communities. And what is that? What is it like? How do they run or whatnot? And it just so happens there's a group of people who, we just found out all actually know each other so this is going to be really fun, that are in the space in some way or another. So let's just get right into introductions. We'll just go same order. Let us know. Start with Robbie. Just give us a quick like who are you and how did you get into the quote, unquote "sober community," what is your connection to that?
Robbie Shaw: Yeah. All right. This will take about 45 minutes. So sit tight.
David Grabowski: Excellent. Excellent.
Robbie Shaw: So, let's start when I was eight. No. I'm from Charlotte, born and raised. And let's see, fast version, alcoholic family, ended up being an alcoholic, recovering from alcohol, now working in the addiction field. There's the quick timeline. So today, I have a private practice called Eventide Recovery, where I provide a myriad of services to people, families, loved ones, anyone battling or associated with someone battling addiction, not just limited to alcohol, although alcohol kind of is my expertise.
But I provide coaching recovery, sobriety coaching, interventions, treatment consultation, crisis management, sober transport. So people need to go from jails to rehab, detox to rehab, whatever, couch to detox. I often will help people with that transition, hopefully in a safe way. So, I do a lot of things in my private practice. Ultimately, I try to help people make changes in their life.
And on the side, it's not even really on the side. I would say that's on the side of my podcast. So, I've got a podcast that I started about a year and a half ago called Champagne Problems. And it's an alcohol-centric health and wellness podcast, where we focus heavily on alcohol culture and alcohol, and how it pertains or influences as a factor in our health and wellness strategies.
And we've got lots of different guests on. It's very much an educational kind of preventative way of delivering messages, but mostly just information around alcohol and alcohol culture that people might not ordinarily come across. Maybe they don't even want to know it. So that's what I do.
Jillian Benbow: Love it. See? That was like a couple of minutes.
Robbie Shaw: Thought it was a little long.
Jillian Benbow: You got 42 minutes left. So whenever you're ready. Sam, why don't you go next. Tell everybody who you are and why are here.
Sam Diminich: Sure. Thanks Jillian. Thanks all for having me on here. I'm Sam Diminich. I'm a chef and owner of Your Farms Your Table. It's a restaurant group here in Charlotte. We work farm to table. We have a meal delivery service. We have a personal chef service. We have a retail. We have a restaurant coming and we do events. It's pretty cool. Also, one of the national leaders for Ben's Friends, which is a recovery support group focused on individuals and food and beverage. We need help. And I'm a dad, I got two kids. Costs us now, a grade 9th and 15.
Jillian Benbow: Awesome. All right. And, Molly, you're up next. Let us know who you are, what you do.
Molly Ruggere: So, I am the founder of Counterculture Club, which is an alcohol-free social community that offers coaching, virtual, and in-person membership, and large-scale public events. And then in addition to that, I'm the head coach of Counterculture Clubs. So, I work with people as an alcohol freedom coach, helping people change their relationships with alcohol. I would say in comparison to what Robbie does, I work more with the people that are considered gray area drinkers.
So, they might not be... they're most likely not a fit for treatment or even going the traditional 12-step route, but they are uncomfortable with the level that they're drinking. And so, often therapists will recommend me to them for specializing, and it's really mindset change and behavioral thinking and action steps and that sort of a thing for coaching. And then a couple other things, I also freelance writer, and doing all kinds of little projects on the side as well.
Jillian Benbow: That's awesome. I love that we have the gamut of the different general types of sober community or sober support here. Correct me if I'm wrong, Sam, I think Ben's Friends... Is it very aligned with the 12-step program? Is it kind of that format or is it not at all? You're smiling. So you're probably like, "No."
Sam Diminich: That's a million dollar question right there, isn't it? No, it's modeled after the 12-step program in many, many ways, but distance itself at the same time, more or less, man. It's like we have an epidemic in our industry, the industry we love, right?
Jillian Benbow: Yeah.
Sam Diminich: And in epidemic, we have a spectrum of individuals from all walks of life, who work and love what they do, but many struggle with substance abuse. Many of those people have walked into a 12-step meeting have been like, "Fuck this, dude." You know what I mean? Like, "This is cray..." You know what I mean? They're talking about God, there's old people in the back with small cups of coffee like, "This is not for me." Right? And so, what we want to do is just create a space where people felt comfortable. They could relate to each other, and come and share their struggles with no strings attached or whatsoever.
With that being said, it is also a back toward to a solution-based recovery program. Ben's Friends is not a program, it's a fellowship. I got sober in a program, that's what I needed. And so, if you ask us enough times, you'll get the answer, it's a back toward of some type of 12-step solution-based recovery program. And we've been doing it, we've seen results, and we'll continue to operate this way.
David Grabowski: So for someone like me, who's pretty unfamiliar with that sort of scenario, can you just elaborate a little bit on what fellowship versus program means?
Sam Diminich: Yeah. So you walk to a Ben's Friends meeting, we're going to approach the meeting with a topic. The meeting leader's going to share on the topic, and then we'll go around the room and share about it. And so, there's that collective experience based in substance abuse, mental health struggles, and alcoholism. There's that. I go to my home group, I'm a 12-stepper. That's how I got sober. That's how I stay sober. There's work to be done. There's step work to be done. There's connections to be made within myself and others. And it's complete collective experience. You know what I mean? Does it make sense?
David Grabowski: It does. I'm just curious, Molly and Robbie, are you also in the sort 12-step camp or what's your approach and maybe how is it different from Sam's? Just curious as someone who needs in all this understanding.
Robbie Shaw: Well, I'll go because I am very much in the 12-step program and I know Molly is not. So I'll let her expand on that. But I quit drinking 16 years ago through a series of 12-step programs. And then in the last 16 years, I've battled with some other stuff, some marijuana and that kind of thing, and as a result of me kind of entering and exiting the 12-step program. And then, recently I have entered back in and I'm very, very much involved and in very much practice a full on 12-step program to maintain my sobriety.
Molly Ruggere: For me, I started out in 12 steps. I quit drinking in the very, very beginning of 2018. So even at that time, there was nothing else out there. People weren't really having conversations about sober curiosity, wasn't really a thing yet. It was still very much like a black and white situation. You either have a drinking problem and you're never drinking again and you're going to 12 steps, or you got to figure out how to make it work in your life. That's what I at least felt were the options. When I entered into this, it was reluctantly to be completely transparent. I did not want to quit drinking. I wanted to get healthier and get out of New York City, which is where I was living at the time.
David Grabowski: Hey. I got out of there too.
Molly Ruggere: Yeah. It takes a toll on you for sure. And I was working in the entertainment industry and living Brooklyn, and just progressively went from partying and having fun to all of a sudden it was a switch went off after a breakup, and I was drinking to cope. And so, that's when my family started to notice it was an issue. So I definitely stopped drinking because I needed to, to get healthy. Like I said, I did 12 steps at the beginning and it definitely helped hold me accountable. I did the entire 12 steps. I had a sponsor and all of that.
And I just, over time, evolved in my own philosophies about substances and what personally worked for me, and really educated myself on the science behind addiction, and all that we don't know about it still. And just sort of put a patchwork of tools and books and knowledge together that made sense to me. And then realized that I was really happy as a sober person, as a non-drinker, but I didn't know anybody that didn't drink and I wasn't in 12 steps. So there was really no way for me to meet those people outside of going back to meetings.
And so around, I guess that was a year and a half, I just looked around and I said, "There's no social groups where you can go and you can guarantee that you will have anybody else not drinking. There was no space like that, not even a fitness studio." So I just said, "If I feel this way, I assume other people do too." And quitting drinking was the hardest thing I ever did in my life. So I was like, "If I can do that and I can start a group or do whatever I want." And so, I kind of just organically started doing meetups and just seeing who was out there and who was interested and it evolved over time.
So now it's a holistic lifestyle approach for me. I still don't drink. I've been sober for over four and a half years. And as I have my own tools, but I think like 12 steps, it comes down to having community and living a healthy, honest lifestyle. So I would say that's kind of my overall approach.
Jillian Benbow: So everyone's sober currently on the panel and have been, let's call it, consistently like you're intentionally sober. And I'm curious, Molly, to your point, I know as someone who's not, I've definitely seen over the last few years, just more options, I guess. It seems like there is more of a movement that it's a little more in mainstream culture. There's a lot more non-alcoholic drinks.
I know like my social media ads will show something that replaces a cocktail that has no alcohol and this intentional like, "Yeah. Make a really fancy low-ball drink, like a mixologist level drink, but it has no alcohol in it." And there's these options you can buy. Have yet to try any, although I've been honestly very intrigued. Or even though I've noticed a rise, even with my friends who drink socially, et cetera. This concept of using bidders and creating sort of quote, unquote, "mocktails." But to have that like, "I want to wind down after work, but I don't want to drink." And I know bidders have some alcohol in them. So I do realize that.
But I'm curious just round table for all of you, just... Have you noticed this as well? Do you feel like there's a growing movement? And maybe more social acceptance to this idea that you can exist in our society and not have to have alcohol. On your end of things, what have you seen happening?
Molly Ruggere: Yeah. So in terms of what I've seen I... Before I got into running my business full time and coaching, I was working in public relations and marketing. And so, I looked at this when I was in it from a marketing perspective. And I just saw that this sobriety and this lifestyle kind of felt so stigmatized, and it didn't make sense to me. I was 27 and I was like, "I'm now getting healthy. I'm working out. I have energy. I'm doing all these things. And I feel like this is something that should be celebrated and it's making my life so much better." Why is it not looked at as something that's a positive decision and something that can help you achieve your goals regardless of how bad your problem is.
So with my business, I wanted to position it as aspirational lifestyle, like look at what I was able to achieve just by cutting out one thing. And I think the more we are learning about alcohol and its effects on us, the less we can play ignorant and dumb, and look the other way and pretend like we don't know it's a carcinogen. We don't know all the things it does to us. We know these things now. We're getting more of the science every day.
And so, I think people are just starting to talk about that more. I think because there are other alternatives and more books and just a variety of approaches and perspectives. It's not as quiet of a conversation, and people are not afraid to speak about it. And also, big alcohol brands have recognized there's a market for it, so they're going to make money on it. So that's also part of why I think that that movement in terms of drinks is growing because brands are recognizing that there is an appetite for it. So there are more dollars being put towards these drinks in this lifestyle and these concepts. We live in a capitalist society. And so, sobriety, people are starting to see that it's something that can be monetized. And I personally think I appreciate that it's more mainstream. I don't really like the idea of product profiting off of it. But if it's something that's going to make someone healthier, if having a non-alcoholic beer, or a fancy cocktail is going to keep someone from ordering a beer, alcohol, then I say like, "Hell, yeah. That's awesome." So whatever route gets people there and gets people comfortable with it, I think is objectively a good thing. No matter who's showing it.
David Grabowski: It wouldn't be in America if someone wasn't profiting from it.
Molly Ruggere: Yeah.
Sam Diminich: Exactly. Exactly.
David Grabowski: Sam, you're next.
Sam Diminich: So I think the question was somewhere around the, "Have we noticed the trend, kind of more around the wave of this alcohol-free movement coming along." From what I understand and what I've noticed, I do feel like it started with some of the books that came out over a decade ago that transitioned from people writing books about their rock bottom, their tragic life, and now their sobriety. And then it turned into the Holly Whitaker's, the Annie Grace's, Ruby Warrington, Catherine Gray. Giving a little bit of their rock bottom, but then really focusing on their life afterwards and what that looks like now. And a lot of times it wasn't this crash and burn rock bottom for them. It was more of just like what Molly said, it was like, "Yeah. I'm having some consequences. Let's start that look like a little more self medication. Maybe I'll start..." It transitioned into people talking about it that way. And I think that opened the door to the normalization around the conversation.
And then that became more mainstream inside social media, and it began to spread, and people began to read it and see it, and it became more front of mind. And then all of a sudden the pandemic happens, and then you've got wellness just infiltrating America, like Eastern practices all in Western society now, and everybody's still talking about health and wellness, and it's become this big trend. And then of course, like Molly said, the science is just proving it.
Every week there's an article that comes out about how alcohol creates disease and death and destroy... all the things. And so, it's just like this huge perfect storm that was created over maybe a decade or a little more that now coupled with the pandemic is freaking everywhere. Like she said, I mean, there's just products and there's alcohol-free bars and there's alcohol-free events and there's all kinds of shit going on, which is amazing.
I think the big question is, what are the statistics compared to the trend? How many people are not going to treatment? That's not my expertise.
Molly Ruggere: I got some stats, if you want to throw some in there.
Sam Diminich: Good.
David Grabowski: Oh, you can hit us with some stats?
Molly Ruggere: Yeah.
David Grabowski: Give us your top three.
Molly Ruggere: Well, there's just been a lot of the news coverage, the media coverage of this movement, whether it's covering athletic brewing and their insane growth, or a New Yorker article about cocktails, or Drinker trying mocktails, whatever. It's hitting all of these national media outlets. There was just an article in Vogue that I read that was like, "Is no one drinking anymore?" And they had a stat that said, "Nielsen claims low and no-alcohol beverage sector has grown by 506% since 2015."
So, I think a lot of these studies that we had learned about previously, like the study where one drink a day is good for you or wine fights off cancer, antioxidants, and all that. We've learned a lot of that has been debunked. And a lot of those studies were funded in part by alcohol companies. I don't know, I can't give specifics on that, but that's something that's widely known. So there's-
... not that's kind of something that's widely known. So there's just more and more information. And like Robbie was saying, the pandemic really ... I think it sped things up in one way or another for a lot of people in a lot of different parts of life, but a lot in terms of substances. People either realized that they just drank by default in social situations, but they didn't really need it. Or a lot of women in particular, I think women's stress related drinking during the pandemic went up by 41%.
So a lot of clients I've seen didn't have a problem. What is a problem? But they didn't recognize it as an issue until the pandemic. And then they were putting away a bottle of wine at night and they realized they don't know how to live without that being a part of their lives. But it was getting out of hand, and then once it gets to that point, you can't put it back in the box. So that's sort of stats for you.
David Grabowski: Pardon maybe the ignorance a little bit, but you mentioned that women seemed to have more of an issue with alcohol during the pandemic. Why is that?
Molly Ruggere: I think there's a number of factors. I think overall societally, we saw a lot of addiction rates in general go up and a lot of mental health issues go up and whatnot, just from isolation and lack of routine. I don't have the actual list of causes. I have a speculation that for women, a lot of women had to leave work and come home and take care of the kids. They had kids at home, no activities, no break. And mommy wine culture is super real.
And a lot of my clients again are women and they just couldn't ... That was how they coped with the stress. It was this belief that at the end of the day, you had a really tough day, you deserve a reward and that's a glass of wine. And that's enforced by the media and enforced by social media. And it's just, why wouldn't they do that? That's what we've been taught. So yeah, I think it's a number of factors, but that was a huge one. Just childcare and the pressures of working and taking care of kids all in one space, I think was a lot.
David Grabowski: I was at a Grocery Outlet out here, which is our cheap grocery mart, and they had a wine brand that was literally called Mommy Juice. And I remember seeing that before the pandemic and being like, "That's weird. It's a weird thing to call bottle of wine."
Molly Ruggere: Yeah. Just look at the card aisle at Target, or the t-shirts. It's a joke, but it's so lame, but it's everywhere.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, the water bottles that are like, "This might be wine." Hehe.
Molly Ruggere: Yeah. The coffee cups.
Jillian Benbow: It's like, that's actually a problem.
Molly Ruggere: It's like, it's funny until it's not.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah.
David Grabowski: I feel like that played out a lot during the pandemic. All my friends were joking about how much they were drinking, but I'm like, "No, but you really are drinking a lot, aren't you?"
Molly Ruggere: Right.
Sam Diminich: Yeah. They started making bread and then cutting their grass and then they went to the bottle. We saw it all go down.
Jillian Benbow: Well, and when you don't have to drive anywhere and it's like, cool, it's noon again. Pandemic. I know, it's sunny outside. I'm going to go drink a beer on the porch. And then it's like, I'm going to take a nap. And then it's like, oh, that was actually kind of fun. And then fast forward. And it's like, oh, this is a terrible habit.
Robbie Shaw: Yeah. It's been a year.
Molly Ruggere: Yeah. It snuck up on people for sure.
Jillian Benbow: Sam, I want to reframe this question to you because we touched on this a little in your intro, but I think this is so significant. The food and beverage industry. Also, I live in a touristy place. The tourism industry. A lot of industries have a very, what I call Peter Pan syndrome kind of vibe. And as such, there's like an, "I don't want to grow up." There's very heavy alcohol and substance use and it's very normalized.
I know just from my friends who are also chefs, work in kitchens, it's a very high pressure environment that breeds to a lot of drinking and whatnot, but also just being around it. Even if you're sober, and if you're working at a place that serves dinner, you're probably also serving alcohol. It's just there or it's an ingredient, et cetera. So I'm curious, just going back to the idea of, have you noticed a shift? What is it looking like in your industry specifically? Are you seeing a shift of it being more acceptable to be sober, whether it's through addiction or just choice in the industry?
Sam Diminich: Yeah, well, I could go back to where I learned to cook and that was from my parents. And that's also where I learned to drink and get high. That's just the way it was. That's what we did. And I have memories of going ... I was a Catholic school kid. I played all the sports. I would keep going to baseball practice. I would ride my bike to work and I'd walk in the back door and there would be all the cooks with Coors Lights, and there was music on and the restaurant was busy and it was a really palpable environment. And one that I was dearly attracted to.
But little did I know what the underbelly of that lifestyle and that culture held for me. It almost killed me. It got very, very serious for me. And so I have perspective, I have that perspective that I grew up with. That for me as just a kid, it was super attractive. And so for one thing, for me to get sober and to still be able to cook, still be able to do what I love is an absolute honor. So to be, I guess, one of the leaders here in Charlotte in the industry is also an honor. And so to be a part of a cultural shift is basically a duty.
And so I guess to answer your question, we're doing that here. We're doing that for the restaurant group that I own. We were doing it at the previous restaurant that I was at, but on a limited basis. Man, it was still ... The conversations about addiction and alcoholism were super touchy-feely, but I see a slight shift, but not enough. And I feel deep down in my heart there's so much more work that we have to do. And as it pertains to Ben's Friends and I think the impact that space has created on a national level, the level of interest and new fellowship members is a pretty good indicator that we're just getting started. We have a long way to go.
David Grabowski: Sam, could you expound on that a bit? I'm just curious. How does that work manifest in the day-to-day life in a restaurant? Are there more conversations as stuff comes up? Are there maybe a different set of expectations set than maybe at a typical restaurant environment? And I say this coming from food and beverage service myself. So I was curious.
Sam Diminich: So to backtrack a little bit, I was asked to do the Food Network in 2019. And part of me doing the Food Network, I got sober in 2014. So it was what, five years, whatever. They wanted to hear my story, they thought my story was helpful. And I was like, "Absolutely not. I'm not going on national TV and talking about being homeless and being an idiot," and doing all these things that were my life. And the people near and dear to me in my recovery circle said, "You can help some people out, share your story, just be honest, tell the truth and you help some people out. You'd be inspiring."
So that was the beginning of being sober out loud, I guess, for me as a chef and as a cook. And what I found is that, and again, it goes back to the Ben's Friend's mission. There's a lot of industry leaders that are involved in Ben's Friends. And there's a lot of industry leaders that are sober involved in Ben's Friends that find solidarity in other chefs, winemakers even, bartenders. The entire hotel leaders that find solidarity in people sharing about their struggles out loud with the intention of not to promote themselves, but to help others.
And so I'm saying all that to let you know that the mission statement that the business that I own and your farm to table is grounded in that intention. When I was in rehab in Sumter, South Carolina, I had to get a job. It was a long-term treatment center. So I had to go to rehab, which I hated. I didn't want to do any of that shit. And then I had to go to work in this tiny town and I made calzones. I made calzones in the tiniest, the dustiest, the most desolate little pizza place down in Sumter, South Carolina. You probably never even heard of Sumter, but it was part of a process.
It was part of a process that was helping me understand how to get sober, how to put one foot in front of the other. I was 38 years old. I was a father of two. I couldn't get five minutes of sobriety under my belt, but it was teaching me how to get sober and also function in the real world.
Robbie Shaw: Live sober.
Sam Diminich: How to show up on time. Yeah. Live sober. How to show up on time, how to pay a bill. I hadn't paid a bill. I was married. I never wrote a check. I didn't know how to balance a checkbook. And so your farm to table offers a safe space for people who are in recovery to come in. I'm going to pay you a livable wage. I'll pay everybody well, that's super important to me.
We have a wellness program. We meet once a month, we sit down. Just like the 12 step model of the Ben's Friends model. We'll bring a topic in. Say it's our mission statement, farm to table. We'll go around the room. We'll check in with everybody and say, "Hey, where are you eating at? Are you leaving here and going to McDonald's?" Because our health is our wealth? And so what I'm getting at is it goes kind of beyond stepping away from drugs and drinking and just how to be a little bit better. And I've found that how to be a little bit better it's so much easier when it's done together.
And so that's the culture that we have cultivated here. That's the culture that not only me, but everybody in my team has rallied around and supported each other. And seeing each other through some really tough times, doing this thing is incredibly challenging, but it's made so much easier together. Hopefully I answered that question clearly, but I do see it as a future model of food and beverage, the industry as a whole. Not everybody that works for your farm to table is in sobriety, but they can still benefit from the theories behind that are grounded in recovery. Principles is what I was trying to say.
Robbie Shaw: Hey, one thing I would add real quick, even though that was Sam's question is we had Steve Palmer, one of the founders of Ben's Friends, on our show. It's probably a safe bet. And Sam, you could speak more to this, but ever since Ben's Friends was created, and not just when it was created but when it got recognized, it is well known. It is known across the country in the food and beverage industry. To your question, David, is if you work in the food and beverage industry, you've likely heard of Ben's Friends. Would you agree to that, Sam?
Sam Diminich: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think so.
Robbie Shaw: If you work in the food and beverage, you've heard of Ben's Friends at this point in time. So to go back to your question, I do think that most people that are in that environment, in that setting where it is so prevalent to overindulge, there is an option. There is an opportunity, there is a place that they can go, that they know of, which is very new. And that is really, really exciting in that industry specifically. So it speaks to the trend and where it's headed.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. I love that. And it's got me thinking about a bunch of sidebar topics that we can dabble in if you'd like. I love to go on a tangent as David knows, but I'm thinking about, to your point, you're talking about a living wage and resources and support on basic how to live things. And it got me thinking about Paris and just how there's such a different view of a lot of food and beverage roles, depending on which country you're in. But it makes me wonder, and I'm curious your thoughts, just in those different cultures where it is a livable wage. Just anywhere where, I guess, the laws in general, people who work in food and beverage are ... you know they're taken care of financially. They have the livable wage, they aren't living off of tips. They have that support. I'm just curious. It's a very random question.
Sam Diminich: No, I think it's an important one. And no, I've never worked in Europe, I've worked in Mexico City and I've seen the struggles of the cooks in the kitchen in Mexico City. But it's all right here. You don't have to look very far. I'm in Charlotte, and some of the quote, unquote, "restaurants" on the lists, they pay their people garbage. It's horrible. Annualize $13 an hour and see where that lands you. And so the people that are being paid $13 an hour and asked to come in and give 110% or else. That's no way to operate.
And so really I have the benefit of being a part of the pre-pandemic restaurant life and the post pandemic restaurant life. I was laid off during the pandemic and I was laid off via email. All right. So anyway, so I was basically treated like a commodity. And so here's a cool recovery story. So I leaned in on recovery. I leaned in on everything that I was taught in recovery, all these tools for living. I needed every single one of them and more.
So that's when this business that I'm sitting in now was started, it was started in my apartment kitchen. And it started out of frustration and fear and I was pissed off and I was sad. This industry that I love so much and given all my life to had turned their back to me and 11 million others. But that's the cool thing about staying sober, because we stay in the solution. And so what has happened despite myself is that emotional liability is now an asset. I model my business not after what I left, but what I don't want to see in the future. And so that's what we work with.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. I was looking at the menu. I'm like, I'm outside the delivery area. I'm also vegetarian, but I see options.
David Grabowski: When will you start delivering interstate?
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. Can we talk about your Colorado expansion plan? I think something that's interesting that I'd love to give each of you a specific question about, but is about community. Because each of you are involved in the sober community in different ways and you have different roles in that. But I think it's such a fascinating example of how community shows up in so many different ways and how there are different options to meet people where they are in the stage they're in, and Molly specifically, to call you out, to see that these existing programs or support networks aren't exactly what I need and I'm looking for. So I'm going to create the thing I need, because I think there's other people like me. And then fast forward you have this thriving digital community, but also in person.
So starting with you, let's talk community. Because you run both in-person and digital within it, do you keep those separate or do you find there's a lot of overlap? Because obviously geography limits the in-person, but I'd love you to talk a little bit about just how you're growing those two forms of community together, but also distinctly. If that makes sense.
Molly Ruggere: Yeah. I think again, the pandemic made things different than we had intended initially. When I started this group, it was fully supposed to be in-person and meeting in-person, making friends in-person and doing these activities that we always want to do, but we don't necessarily want to do as the only sober person.
So right before everything shut down, we had planned our first big event. I was going to do, calling it wellbeing bar, which we did eventually do with Sam and Robbie two full years later. But it was going to be an alcohol free happy hour where anybody was invited. It wasn't specific to anyone in recovery, but just to show people that you could have fun without drinking. And there are plenty of wonderful non-alcoholic beverages out there and ways to socialize as an adult without getting drunk.
And then once the pandemic happened, we obviously canceled that and pivoted to online. And that was when I started doing these online book discussions with authors. I had kind of connected on Instagram to a bunch of sobriety authors and influencers and all that. So pulling from that network to do these discussions and panels and just live things on Zoom and continued to just create community there online.
In December of 2020, I decided to self launch a membership with people that kept showing up to the things I was doing online. And that transitioned into similar to what Sam does with we meet twice a week and we do these virtual discussions and support communities. So we talk about everything from boundary setting to just living life without using substances as a crutch, and how to grow and get through difficult things when you're not numbing out with alcohol or other drugs. So it's very much social. We don't position ourselves as a recovery community per se, because you don't need to be sober to be in the group. You just have to be willing to connect organically with others authentically without using drugs or alcohol.
So we were all online and we were just figuring out how to connect in that way. And that allowed us to have members from all over the country, even some people internationally. So that was really cool and not something I had planned for or expected. But then once things opened up, it kind of changed the dynamic of the group in that people really wanted to get together in person. And we were doing these weekly yoga classes at this outdoor venue in Charlotte called Camp North End. And a lot of people that were moving to Charlotte started coming to these classes and discovering the community and then joining the membership as a way to get involved with social activities without having to go drink. People that didn't prioritize alcohol joined, and maybe they still drink from time to time, but that isn't the way that they want to make friendships or anything anymore.
So it's just become kind of a cultural thing that has allowed us to partner with local businesses and just be trendsetters and thought leaders. If I can use those terms in Charlotte, just kind of encouraging people to think outside of the box and redefine their own personal relationships with alcohol and other drugs without having to completely go one way or the other, or identify as an alcoholic or I have a problem or this or that. Just being more intentional with it because through the pandemic we saw what can happen if you are not really conscious of your substance habits.
So to answer your question, I think we are kind of in a transitional phase where ideally we would be able to open these communities, take what we've done in Charlotte and expand to other cities across the country. That is the dream plan that we want to work towards. But for now it's kind of a hodgepodge of online events and just going with the flow of the appetite for things. So right now people aren't as engaged online, but I think that ebbs and flows with the seasons. And so we just keep holding the space and keep expanding in Charlotte and seeing what opportunities are coming next.
David Grabowski: Molly, I'm curious if you can share maybe an anecdote from your community. I'm sure that you've by now affected many, many lives, but are there any stories from inside your community that you can share just to illustrate the work that you're doing and the effect that can have?
Molly Ruggere: Yeah. I think what's been interesting to see is that people who have joined the group hitting these milestones of being alcohol free and a lot of this almost accidental alcohol free. They come and join the community to see what this lifestyle is all about. And then they just hit six months of not drinking and they realize they slowly but surely have sort of gone to the alcohol free side, when initially they were just more, not sure what they wanted to do with it.
So a lot of people don't come in saying, "I have to stop drinking. I need to help. I can never drink again." It's not quite so extreme. A lot of people are my age as well. So I think they're just kind of coming out of the college years and they're realizing, I can't party the way I used to and how do I meet people? So a lot of people have just organically kind of dropped the drugs and alcohol as a part of being in this group.
And I've just been impressed too, with the amount of people that have stayed since day one that are still active. Because with social clubs, people get busy, people fall off. We've just really been able to build a group of people that get along really well. And knock on wood, there's not drama. Because we've gone on these trips and things like that. But because no one is getting wasted, there aren't any cat fights or there's no really big issues because we're all sober and we go to bed early and we're not sleep deprived.
And so it's just been fun to see the differences in terms of what people's relationships with substances are. We also don't really talk about it that much. I don't know everyone's individual relationship to drugs and alcohol. All I know is we don't encourage it. We don't allow it in any of our spaces, but what they do is up to them. We're not going to judge them for it. We're just not going to promote it. So that's opened the door for, again, people that are drinkers that don't plan to stop drinking, but that want that community. So that wasn't my intention. It was originally kind of all really sobriety focused. And now it's not about sobriety. It's just about living a healthier lifestyle and creating relationships outside of bars and breweries and bonding over beer and wine.
David Grabowski: I have another follow-up question. Sorry. I told you I have a lot of these. Since you have a ...
Sorry. I told you I have a lot of these. Since you have a digital component and an in-person component, I imagine you have some members that are fully digital, and some that are a little bit of both. How do you balance and, or marry the two?
Molly Ruggere: Yeah, so the ones that are more remote, it's almost two different audiences that come together and then, also are different in some ways as well. So, the ones that are fully remote, we actually have a lot of people in California that joined early on that they are really active in those twice-weekly share circles that we do, and we do some online workshops as well.
So, they just from that twice-weekly interaction alone, that's kept them invested in the community. Because like I said, it's a place where you come and you talk about real issues and real things going on in your life. Outside of maybe therapy, there aren't really those spaces, and I think historically, what we used to connect to people on that level is alcohol or drugs.
I mean, that's maybe a generalization, but I think that we're missing that and craving that regardless of whether or not we use substances. So, that has really kept people coming because it's a place where they can be vulnerable and honest and open, and find people that relate to them. Because that's another thing, if you're cutting out alcohol or drugs, you can feel really isolated, and you don't feel understood.
We live in this booze-soaked culture, and it's just, once you wake up to that, you want people you can talk to about it that get it. So that's really, what's kept them coming back. Then again, the Charlotte people, I'd say we have more people that aren't identifying as sober or alcohol free, but they really like these active events we do like hiking and trips to the amusement park, and we doing retreats to the mountains, and things that are really active and fun. So, it's just a different vibe.
Jillian Benbow: That sounds so fun. Sign me up.
Sam Diminich: I love that. I do.
Robbie Shaw: Molly does an awesome job.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah.
Robbie Shaw: She mentioned...
Sam Diminich: Molly's a lighthouse.
Molly Ruggere: Aw, thank you.
Robbie Shaw: Yeah. No question. She mentioned the event that we did. So us three, we know each other through a counterculture club event. My podcast helped sponsor it, Sam brought the food and brought community there, and it was... Molly modestly didn't mention this, but it was an astounding success. We had an alcohol-free event and what, 250 people showed up? I mean, it was insane.
Molly Ruggere: Yeah. We sold out. Sam had to keep going to get more food. We kept running out.
Sam Diminich: Sam was in the weeds.
Robbie Shaw: Oh, yeah. Sam was totally in the weeds. It was insane. We had a band, we had a tarot card reader, we had phenomenal food, mocktails, alcohol-free beer.
Sam Diminich: All worth it.
Robbie Shaw: It was so fun. You would've walked into that place and thought everybody was drinking.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah.
Robbie Shaw: It was loud and people were laughing and yelling and telling... I mean, it was awesome. It was really awesome.
Jillian Benbow: It sounds amazing. I guess it shows right. You can put on a great event or have a gathering of people in a way that you don't need the crutch of alcohol. The way a lot of us lean on a lot.
Robbie Shaw: We think we need it. That's right.
Jillian Benbow: Well, and yeah, to create an environment where it just isn't there, right?
Molly Ruggere: Yeah.
Jillian Benbow: Because you can't go... I've gone to things with my friends where I just didn't want to drink. Then of course, I'm sure you all can relate. It's not fun to be the sober one with a bunch of drunk people. It's like, ah, is this how we act?
So to create an environment where people can let loose and have fun, but without this pressure of like, "Ooh, I need a buzz first." That's powerful. Everything you're doing, Molly is so cool.
Molly Ruggere: Thank you.
Jillian Benbow: I love that you've found that bridge and the pandemic forced a lot of us to cross it, but of the online versus in-person. I completely hope that you do expand into other locations because it's clearly something that's needed in the world. So that's wonderful.
But I want to shift. Robbie, I want to shift to you. So thinking about Molly's events and whatnot, it seems like even if you're not talking about it, to your point, Molly, which also amazing, even if you're not talking about sobriety, but it is the common factor that bring people together.
Robbie, you have a recovery practice and a podcast. So I see your community as being this hybrid of the audience of the podcast. And perhaps those events like Molly's, where there's the opportunity to get people in a room together. Then obviously there's the people you connect with in your recovery practice.
What is accountability of the people that listen to you and the people in your recovery practice? Do you feel like there is a peer support accountability side or like that come together, community side to your world?
Robbie Shaw: So my practice and my podcast, I keep them very, very separate. My practice is very much on the far end of the spectrum of addiction.
Now I do work with people who have not reached that space yet and do just need some help with it, in a similar sense that Molly does in her coaching.
But I'm not limited to that. And I will have people reach out for that, but most of my clientele in that space is, "Holy shit. What do we do?"
Jillian Benbow: Yeah.
Robbie Shaw: So, and so is in a gutter. So, and so is in a hotel rooms.
Jillian Benbow: It's more crisis mode.
Robbie Shaw: Very much crisis mode. That is most of the work I do there. I leave that completely separate. That's my own little thing that I'm good at and I've learned how to do. And that's over there.
Podcast. Now that is a different animal. As you both probably know, it is a very much a digital community in online community, where there's no face to face with who my listeners are and my audience is. So we're left to try to, it's almost like, and I hate to take away the genuineness of it, but not that they're separate.
You can't blend the genuineness with the strategic aspect of it, but it almost plays into a marketing and advertising head space. Where, how do we appeal to the most people? How do we deliver this message in the most engaging and non-threatening and non-judgmental way?
Because our idea in our podcast is very much around the whole spectrum of alcohol, from not drinking at all, not sober, just people who don't drink all the way to people who are in the gutter and everything in between.
So the example I constantly provide is, you ever see one of these speakers who says, "How many people in here have been indirectly or directly affected by alcohol?" Well, a 100% of the people usually raise their hand. Everybody's got an uncle, everybody's got a brother or whatever. So everybody's got some space in their life that's been affected by it. That's how we come at it from our content. From a content perspective of our podcast, how do we appeal to literally everybody out there?
So our audience, our community, we have to come at it from that kind of space, which is very, very hard. Especially when you're talking about something that is so sensitive. So dear, to some people, such a part of people's identity, I mean our culture in this world with alcohol we can talk about it. It's pretty insane, I mean when you're asking someone to make changes in that space, they're changing their lives. It's not just getting rid of gluten.
It's part of fucking culture. It's a part of who they are. That's very hard to do. It's especially hard to get people to consider making changes in that space without sounding threatening, without sounding like you're shaking your finger at them without sounding judgemental. What you're doing is bad. All of that is bad for you. Bad, bad, bad. We have to be very, very strategic about that.
No idea if I'm answering your question, but that's how we come at our community. Because I know this topic is community, but my community it's very different. And I learn as I go. We're essentially talking about everybody out there or the possibility is everybody out there. So how do you go about it with the engagement and the appeal to everybody without pissing everybody off?
Jillian Benbow: I'm pretty sure I piss people off on the regular. It's just the...
Robbie Shaw: Right.
Jillian Benbow: Not having a microphone. Okay. In the interest of time, I'm just going to keep going.
So Sam, let's end with you on this question, then we're going to go into a very special rapid fire. But talk to us when thinking about both your workplace, but also Ben's Friends and the pandemic.
How do you feel like the pandemic hit the food and bev industry hard, right? I mean, big time, especially at the beginning when things were very tightened.
Do you feel like the pandemic specifically affected the food and bev community, especially the sober community within, with everyone being at home all of a sudden, and maybe not having the same accountability that they were used to before the pandemic?
Sam Diminich: No doubt about it. I mean the relapse rates were up. They were up and well again, Ben's Friends did what Ben's Friends does and stays in the solution.
So we went from being in an in-person meeting, that structure where every city had their in-person meeting to doing a national meeting. Here's a beautiful, kind of a comeback story for the food and beverage and Ben's Friends and all that.
Is Ben's Friends, we were compartmentalized city by city. I knew of the crew in Seattle, but we'd never met and certainly never been into meeting together. But we all came together. We said, we don't know what's going to happen next, but how do we stay sober ourselves? And how do we help others?
It's a philosophy that we have out of self and in the service. In a right size, whatever you have going on between your ears and that's solution-based thinking.
So what we came up with was a national meeting, seven days a week at 1:00 PM. That way we could capture the west coast audience as well as the east coast audience and everyone in between.
So now we have this fucking incredible network of some of my, I can call them my best friends. We were on the phone last, we did a Zoom call last night at 11:00PM in St. Helena, California, Washington, DC, Seattle, Portland.
My friend Sherry is a winemaker in Portland. She's been sober 10 years. That's change right there. That's community right there. She's been sober 10 years and guess what? She knows that there's no finish line to recovery, man. So she stays in it. She does what works for her and she's leading a national AA meeting. That's a spinoff from Ben's Friends, in order to create a higher connection.
So pandemic, a lot of people relapsed, but a lot of people bounced back and a lot of people came together and that's how prefer to frame it. Here we are, still in the middle of it and we'll continue to be.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah, that's beautiful. There's something really special about being able for us, and I think this is the power of technology for good is that we can leverage it to do things like that. Hey, we can't meet in person, which is our motto because I don't know this global pandemic and nobody knows what's going to happen. So let's just hop on a call for anybody who can make it nationally. And to your point, you meet new people. Maybe you hear how other groups fellowships, do things and maybe there's some little thing they do that you never tried and it's great. There's something really cool about that. And you leave it stronger.
Sam Diminich: Just imagine this though, we're in April or May of 2020 and we log onto a meeting and somebody that we've never met before jumps on the Zoom call.
They're like, "I haven't had a drink in 48 hours.", in the middle of a fucking pandemic. I am going to get emotional about this, but that would happen weekly. "Thank God for you guys, a safe space, I can come, I can show up and hear just what I need to hear to get me through another 24 hours." That's what it's all about. So that's the power of the collective. That's the power of solution-based thinking. That's the power of, I think, the Ben's Friends platform for restaurant and hospitality workers.
Jillian Benbow: Perfect mic drop to segue to a rapid fire. These are different than our normal questions. So I think what we're going to do, David and I will alternate asking the only rule, there's two rules actually.
The first rule is you got to give a one sentence answer. It should be rapid. Whatever comes to the top of your head, that's your answer. Then the rule for David and I is to not ask follow up questions, which will be very difficult for us as you may have noticed.
So it's our attempt to be actual, rapid fire. So let's pick an order. Let's do, I'm just going on what I see on my screen, Robbie, then Molly, then Sam for each of these, okay? It's just that like quick. So David's going to start us off with the first question.
David Grabowski: Okay. So first question. It's funny, I find sometimes that just speaking for myself, what I actually create at the end of the day isn't necessarily an alcoholic drink. It's just a special drink. I just want something with a little garnish or something. So what are all y'all's favorite social drink?
Robbie Shaw: I typically go with a non-alcoholic beer. I love a Sam Adams, hazy IPA, cold glass. I'll chug the shit out of it too.
Molly Ruggere: Shotguns it.
Sam Diminich: Nice.
Jillian Benbow: What about you, Molly?
Molly Ruggere: I love kombucha or also non-alcoholic beers. I'm a big athletic brewing fan. So I like all their IPAs. That's my go-to.
David Grabowski: Sam?
Sam Diminich: Well, we're research and developing our non-alcoholic beverage menu that we will put as much effort into as we do our wine, beer and coffee menu.
And so we're playing around with flavors right now. Preserving fruits, making kombuchas. We made a peach consummate with a coconut foam. It looked like a shot. It was amazing. We served it in a shot glass.
David Grabowski: Oh, that sounds incredible.
Sam Diminich: It's fucking badass.
Jillian Benbow: My gosh. I'll take 10.
David Grabowski: That sounds so delicious.
Molly Ruggere: So excited about that.
Jillian Benbow: Oh, that sounds so good.
Molly Ruggere: Okay.
David Grabowski: Yeah, I think we're, we're going to North Carolina.
Jillian Benbow: I know. Planning.
All right. Same order. And Robbie, you can have a couple seconds to think about it. I know you're at the disadvantage being first.
What is the best part about being sober that might surprise us? What's something that's something really positive about being sober, whether it's a health benefit or not?
Robbie Shaw: Well, Okay. So just preface, being sober is a result of being severely addicted, right, for me. So conversely, to being sober was absolute hell. So there is a long list of shit that's good for about being sober.
For me, I would say the big umbrella is honesty and it doesn't always come and I'm not always honest, but it is how I try to live now whereas before I probably tried to live dishonestly.
David Grabowski: I'm so tempted to ask follow up questions. But I won't.
Robbie Shaw: No, no.
Jillian Benbow: You can't do it. Molly. What about you?
Molly Ruggere: Yeah. I mean, I love... Oh, I'm going to give a long-winded answer, but I'm not going to do it.
For me. I mean, honesty is huge. That is huge because if you're not honest, that's what leads us to want to hide from ourselves or abandon ourselves or numb out, is when we can't live with the truth.
So I think honesty is huge, but I would also add consistency. You are able to be the same person and continue to build on that person every day, whether it's in your wellness practices, your workout routines, you're 12 step skincare regimen, your friendships. You can show up consistently and do those healthy habits that you can do to grow consistently. That's what builds self-esteem over time.
So I used alcohol for confidence and for social anxiety and all those things. Only when I had to take alcohol away, did I force myself to actually learn those skills without leaning on a substance. So it really taught me to grow up and I figure out who I was. So that's as short as I can do it, sorry.
Jillian Benbow: That's fine. I love it. Sam, what about you?
Sam Diminich: I thought I was born on the wrong planet and I really did because I didn't belong. I lived with that for 30 years. I got sober at 38. I'm sure I started drinking and using when I was 13 or 14 and it turns out I was wrong and recovery revealed that for me.
So that being said, possibilities, infinite and having opportunities to nourish those possibilities means everything. I got sober, so I wouldn't die and I stayed sober to live.
David Grabowski: Next question, top book that you would recommend to any sober-curious listeners out there. Robbie?
Robbie Shaw: Shit! I don't read.
Jillian Benbow: It could also be an article or podcast episode.
Robbie Shaw: Champagne Problems podcast.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah.
Molly Ruggere: Interviewed enough authors. Pull one of those out.
Robbie Shaw: Yeah, that's true. God, I literally don't read books without promoting my own podcast.
Jillian Benbow: Oh, you can promote your own podcast. That's fine.
Robbie Shaw: Well then listen to Champagne Problems. But I would say this is a great book. "Say Grace" by Steve Palmer, who Sam knows, who is the founder or the co-founder of Ben's Friends. "Say Grace", by Steve Palmer, it's not so much a sober-curious book, but it'll move you.
David Grabowski: Molly?
Molly Ruggere: I have two books and I really don't want to choose. So I'm going to say both.
David Grabowski: It's typical answer from a writer.
Molly Ruggere: The first one. I'm biased, so I got my coach training from Annie Grace. So, "This Naked Mind" is her book and I have to say that, because that's sort of how I modeled my coaching. There's a lot of tools from her work.
But I would also say Holly Whitaker, her writing, she wrote "Quit Like a Woman" and pretty much her podcast, everything she put out was really what changed my perspective entirely on what living alcohol free means.
That was a game changer for me personally. So I would say "This Naked Mind" and "Quit Like A Woman". You have to read both.
David Grabowski: Sam?
Sam Diminich: Yeah, "Drop the Rock". Can you guys see this?
Molly Ruggere: I didn't know it was a show and tell.
David Grabowski: "Drop the Rock"?
Sam Diminich: Yeah. It's really, it's one of those things. I look back on my own resume of drinking and using. If logic would've navigated my life, I would've got sober at 17, but I couldn't because I wasn't ready yet. So what transpired over the next 30 years, is a lot of people and their bread crumbs, you can't really get anybody to do anything that they not ready to do.
But pain is basically the cover charge of change. So "Drop the Rock" really focuses on acceptance and surrender without trying to sell anybody anything about making significant changes in their lives.
Jillian Benbow: I admit this is going to be hard to one answer or one sentence answer, but do your best.
So self care and boundaries are so important, especially when helping people that are in these situations and maybe there's a crisis with someone, et cetera.
It can be emotionally exhausting. So thinking about that, how do you maintain boundaries and keep your personal-tank full?
Robbie Shaw: I feel like those are two kind different things. Boundaries... I am just going to go with the emotional tank side of it, spirituality 100%, I mean and spirituality is a constant quest for me.
It is constantly looking, practicing, digging that honesty, figuring out what gets my ticker ticking. What the hell am I? What are y'all? What is all this? That's what keeps me rolling. And it keeps me... One sentence. It keeps me, God, not going off the damn deep end because of every damn thing that goes on in this world that makes you go off the deep end.
Jillian Benbow: Molly, what about you?
Molly Ruggere: I would say this is actually a good question and something I feel like I admittedly struggled with when I transitioned from doing that nine to five corporate job to working in my own business as an entrepreneur.
Because if you don't work, you don't get paid. When you're really passionate about something, it can be really hard to turn it off. And for years it was my side passion and that was just what I enjoyed learning about.
So it was a struggle to figure out how to navigate, putting it down at the end of the day when you're working from home. But I think what I've been telling myself is acceptance. So it's okay if I'm not doing all of the things self-care wise that I used to do when I had that sturdy corporate nine to five job.
I'm not necessarily going to be able to meditate and journal and do all these things every single morning. I just accept that and I also make sure I am getting time for self-care and rest in whatever way that looks. It can look different every day and that's okay, I accept that.
So that's what I would say, it's just being non-judgmental and going easy on yourself and also recognizing you are only human and you need rest and exercise to keep going.
Jillian Benbow: Love it. Sam, what about you?
Sam Diminich: Do have to say, because I'd rather skip this? I am not a poster child for boundaries.
Jillian Benbow: What's your ideal boundary?
Sam Diminich: I'm opening a restaurant, man.
No, listen. I think it's important to be able to be comfortable with identifying what works for you spiritually, physically, I think mentally. I think it's important to be open to new ideas on what works for you.
That's where I am with my journey. I mean, I absolutely love what I do and to have a second chance at this is incredibly special. So I embrace that, I try not to take it for granted. As far as my health goes, I'm super specific on what goes in my body and how I can, I guess try to be the best version of myself in a lot of ways.
My schedule's pretty intense, so I have to be present, but that's what works for me. As I mentioned, I'm still open to other ideas and sometimes I have to correct myself to be honest with you. I can't answer this in one sentence, sorry, but the journey continues for sure.
Jillian Benbow: Oh for sure.
Robbie Shaw: All right. Keep them coming, rapid.
David Grabowski: Are we on the last one, Jillian? I think we are.
Jillian Benbow: Yep. Final one.
David Grabowski: Okay.
Jillian Benbow: Final question.
David Grabowski: So this is also supposed to be a one sentence answer only. We definitely need to design our questions a little more streamlined, I think.
Jillian Benbow: Or do we? It's a challenge.
Robbie Shaw: I'm going to give you one word.
David Grabowski: One word?
Robbie Shaw: One word answer.
David Grabowski: So my question is, let's say that you were leading a community and you're designing an environment for people to interact in.
How do you design one that's healthy, that's conscious and insensitive to folks who may be sober-curious, or sober themselves.
How do you design something that is accommodating to everybody? Because I feel like a lot of social circumstances are designed with not sober people in the gaze as it were.
Robbie Shaw: One word.
David Grabowski: Good luck.
Robbie Shaw: Non-judgmental.
Molly Ruggere: So wait we're one word or one sentence?
Robbie Shaw: I think you're supposed to be one sentence, but I did one word.
David Grabowski: Which ever you feel most comfortable with.
Jillian Benbow: Robbie wants extra credit. So he went one sentence, but you can do it.
Molly Ruggere: Okay. I would say most social spaces cater towards drinkers. So creating a space that is entirely alcohol free, drug free, where alcohol is irrelevant, but still including elements that are fun and enjoyable.
So good food, good drinks, music activities like enough going on that people are stimulated and engaged without, just is what it takes to make alcohol irrelevant in those situations.
Because if it is enough fun and enough energy and enough different types of people on different journeys, then it's going to be engaging and people are showing up...
... different journeys, then it's going to be engaging, and people are showing up because they really want to be there, not because they want to get drunk, which is why I showed up to a lot of things. So I know that I can attest to that.
David Grabowski: Sam.
Sam Diminich: Yeah. So that dining room I'm in now, the aesthetic we're going for is humility. And so, one word answer is humility.
David Grabowski: I like it. Love it.
Jillian Benbow: Love it. Mic drop.
Well, we have kept you all a long time. So to wrap up, thank you so much for being here. I want to just quickly go around the horn on where people can find you if they want to learn more. Molly, you have countercultureclub.org, is your website. Do you have any social media handles or anything you'd like to share?
Molly Ruggere: Sure. My Instagram, where I talk, my coaching page is @mollyruggere, so my name. And then Counterculture Club Instagram is @counterculture_club. And we are also on Facebook with the same, @countercultureclub. If you search us on Twitter and Facebook, we're out there, so.
Jillian Benbow: We'll find you. Excellent. Sam, I have you at your restaurant, Your Farms Your Table, farms is plural, yourfarmsyourtable.com. Is there anywhere else people can find you?
Sam Diminich: Yeah. You can find me on Instagram. I think that's where everybody goes anyway, right? It's @chefsamdiminich. And then we have Restaurant Constance and Your Farms Your Table as well.
Jillian Benbow: All right. Excellent. And bensfriendshope.com is the organization we've talked about.
Sam Diminich: Can't forget that.
Jillian Benbow: Can't forget that.
Sam Diminich: Yeah. Thank you.
Jillian Benbow: Of course. And last, but certainly not least, our pal Robbie. You have the champagneprobspodcast.com. And also on the total other end of the spectrum, Eventide Recovery. Where can we find you socially?
Robbie Shaw: Yeah. That's right. The easiest thing to do for the Champagne Problems is, you already said it, Champagne Probs, not problems. So we had to condense it, champagneprobspodcast.com. Everything's on there, links to the audio, the video, all that stuff. And then, if you need help or reaching out for help or want to talk to somebody about anything in the heavy space, eventiedrecovery.com. Easy as that.
Jillian Benbow: You on Instagram, Twitter?
Robbie Shaw: Yeah. All that is on the champagnepropspodcast.com website. It's all the same name, champagneprobspodcast.com.
Jillian Benbow: Awesome. Well, David, any final words of wisdom?
David Grabowski: Just thank you. Thanks to all of you for coming on the show. Molly, thank you again, thousand times over for helping me corral all these wonderful people together and thanks again.
Molly Ruggere: Of course.
Robbie Shaw: Thanks for having us.
Molly Ruggere: Thanks for having us.
Sam Diminich: Yeah. It means a lot. Means a lot to be up here with Robbie and Molly, two people I look up to a bunch here in the community in Charlotte. So thanks for having me.
Jillian Benbow: All right. And that was our episode. All about sober communities. David, it's your first time behind the mic with me, hopefully not the last. Walking out of that, what are your thoughts?
David Grabowski: A lot of thoughts. The thing that I think struck me first and foremost was just how these different kinds of communities can approach a problem or a type of individual, or a subtype of individuals in different ways, right?
We have Molly who has Counterculture Club, who's kind of catering more to the sober curious out there, people who want to maybe just reexamine their relationship. And it's almost like, I don't want to say tricky, but the way she framed, it's like, "Well, you can come to these events and this is our purpose behind these events, and our mission. And we're not saying, come on in and this is why you're coming in because you're going to get clean or whatever." But she's creating a space that's... It sounds very curious and interesting. What happens when we create these events that are sober and how do people interact differently, and creating a safe space for that to happen? And then just as a natural byproduct, you have people who are becoming sober or just almost off the cuff, as you described it. Contrasted with, of course, Sam and Robbie, who are very much 12-step people. Their communities are designed very intentionally around that. And they're dealing with, again, a different kind of subtype of person. So that's what stood out to me.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. So just kind of taking a step back and looking at a big picture. I think there's a huge lesson here for all of us who build community, because I know a lot of people feel obligated, if you will, to kind of expand what is your community about and to reach more people. I think Molly in particular, her community is such a great example of leaning into much more of a niche or serving a need that maybe isn't the first thing you think of when you think of sober communities. I mean, it's for people who don't have to necessarily be sober, but it's very intentionally designed as we get together and we're sober, but we're not talking about it.
David Grabowski: It's like having a different kind of intentionality, I think, as a community. It's like, "This is the community guideline [inaudible] ."
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. Exactly. I feel like it must take the pressure off too for... If you're wanting to explore, I love the terminology sober curious, if you're kind of interested, but you're not sure and you kind of want to dip a toe to know, you can go to this event and experience it fully and see how it is. Can I even have fun dancing without alcohol, right? And my personal gut reaction was like, "No, I cannot. But maybe I can in the right environment." It's like, "Will I have fun at a bar at 2:00 AM when it's hot and gross and everyone's drunk?" No, I will not, and I know that.
David Grabowski: Have I talked to you about ecstatic dance before? We talked about this?
Jillian Benbow: No.
David Grabowski: Ecstatic dance is a community of dancers who they hang out and they dance totally sober and the only rules are no substances, no talking. And if you want to dance with other people and touch their bodies, consensual obviously. But it's cool because they'll bring in different DJs who play a wide variety of music like electronica, Latin, even Bollywood type stuff. And as someone who was very shy about dancing, I thought going into this, that I would be really self-conscious and probably just go home or thought about maybe I should just have a drink anyway before I go. But once you realize that no one is looking at you and no one gives a shit how you're moving, it's very freeing. Maybe for the next team retreat.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. Actually looking into it. That sounds really fun and very adjacent to what Molly does.
David Grabowski: Yeah. Yeah.
Jillian Benbow: So just allowing yourself to say, "Hey. I'm going to do a community that is kind of niche and is kind of different." There's something about that. And I guess we didn't really have time to talk to Molly too much about the details, what the growth of her community looked like. She started in-person. So I think that in and of itself takes the pressure off of like, "Oh. I need X people to launch." You can do that with two or three people. And it feel very organic and it can grow from there. But I love it, I love that idea.
It reminds me of Kelly with Badass Running club, and just saying like, "Hey. I don't want to join this crazy running group that's all about fitness. I just want to hang out with people. I'm sure we'll do a little running, but it's really more about hanging out." And so, I feel like this is kind of that similar idea and it's a great example of how a community can be incredibly strong because it is so niche down. The flip side, I think, what Sam's doing, obviously Ben's Friends is big. It's an, I mean, international organization, right, but it's very specific to a lifestyle that not everybody understands. That kitchen lifestyle, food and bev back of house.
David Grabowski: The most stressful jobs I've ever had, by the way, as someone who has worked in various roles.
Jillian Benbow: Can only imagine. The ski industry is very similar This is what I did. Graduated college, it was like, "I don't want to grow up and get a real job." So I moved up here to the mountains and got a ski bum job. I was a ski bum for a few years. I just happened to stay. And a lot of people do it for a few years and leave. And a lot of people are lifers and the culture of it is very... It's an extension of that kind of college party mentality, which I think anymore, a lot of people, you graduate college and you don't want the fun to end, but then slowly you start growing up.
David Grabowski: Then you have kids.
Jillian Benbow: And then you got pregnant. Yeah. Point being there's several industries that I think have this much more, even more open and accepted binge drinking and partying and that kind of thing. It's not exclusive to the tourism industry. It's not exclusive to food and bev, but it's definitely there, and it can be scary.
And Robbie's podcast, I love the... You don't have to show up to a meeting, right. You can listen to an episode, no one really knows you're doing it. You can kind of get a feel and from there you can jump off to whatever has... If he's interviewed an author, maybe go look at that book, etcetera. But the three of them combined is this superpower, which we saw with that event they did, right?
David Grabowski: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Sounds amazing.
Jillian Benbow: I know. Like, "Are you going to do another one? When? David and I have to come for research."
David Grabowski: On a different, almost a disconcerting way of looking at that whole event, I realized, as they said that I'm like, "I have never experienced that." I don't know what it's like to be an adult group of people who are all sober and hanging out. I've literally never experienced that. And that's maybe cause for pause.
Jillian Benbow: You don't have any, and neither do I, any specific memory of a gathering like that that didn't have alcohol as part of it, right? However, they sold out in Charlotte, which I know as any town anymore, is kind of a party town. To create this thing and have it sell out and just be a massive success, and people having so much fun to the point where you wouldn't know that no one's drinking, I mean, that is a signal in the right direction of one, and again, for any community builder, if your events are good enough, people are going to come and you're going to, I mean, sell out if you can, right?
And so, it comes back to this. Are you creating experiences within your community that the people are busting the door down for? And I get food is hard to compete with, but it's getting this group of people who want to do something in a certain way, which in this sense is have a really fun, big party that has no alcohol, and then executing it in a way, getting the word out and having an experience that people are still talking about, and that two dumb dumbs on a podcast want to come to the next one. Sorry. I should just speak for myself. One dumb dumb and one very patient producer. I mean, like the lollipop [inaudible] -
David Grabowski: You can include me in the dumb dumb bunch.
Jillian Benbow: Yeah. So I think there's something there with... Just to reiterate, look at what is the event experience for your members and why are they excited? Why would it sell out? What is it that is super exciting?
David Grabowski: Maybe just on a broader level too, it just really goes to show that there's, whatever niche you're in, there's probably more of you out there, right? If you had told me pre-pandemic that people would be selling out a 250-person sober event, I'd be skeptical.
Jillian Benbow: David skeptical? Never.
David Grabowski: Always, every day.
Jillian Benbow: Always skeptical. Well, David-
David Grabowski: I see the sunrise and I'm like, "Mmm."
Jillian Benbow: Suspicious. But on that note, David, is there any sort of end comments that you have, anything about the episode you would like to share with our beloved audience?
David Grabowski: Yeah. I just think there's a lot of really important takeaways in this episode for anybody building any kind of community that just shows a lot about how different types of personas can fit into different kinds of categories and how something that 10, 20 years ago didn't have much traction, it can the next moment. So whatever small niche you're in, your people are out there.
Jillian Benbow: That's a very good point. I'm going to leave it at that and not ramble. So everybody thanks for joining us. Since David's here, I need to make sure to remind you to like and subscribe if you haven't already.
David Grabowski: Smash that like button.
Jillian Benbow: Yes. Epic. Yeah. And we'll see you next Tuesday.
You can find Molly, @mollyruggere or @counterculture_club on Instagram and Facebook. You can also find her at countercultureclub.org. Sam Diminich, you can find at www.yourfarmsyourtable.com, and on the socials @chefsamdiminich. That is all one word. Diminich is D-I-M-I-N-I-C-H. And you can find Robbie Shaw at champagneprobspodcast.com and eventiderecovery.com. The Champagnes Prob podcast can be found on social media @champagneprobspodcast.
Your lead host for The Community Experience is me, Jillian Benbow. Our executive producer is Matt Gartland. Our senior producer is David Grabowski. And our editor is Paul Grigoras. Sound editing by Duncan Brown. Theme music by David Grabowski. See you next Tuesday.