Farming for Health Podcast #30: Mickey Bakst of Ben’s Friends

Farming for Health Podcast #30: Mickey Bakst of Ben’s Friends

Today, our guest on the Farming for Health podcast is Mickey Bakst, the co-founder of Ben’s Friends. This organization provides support to chefs, bartenders, cooks, servers, and more in the food and beverage industry who struggle with substance abuse and addiction. The mission is to offer a path forward to anyone in the industry battling addiction—a future filled with hope and fellowship.

Mickey, who is a forty-eight-year veteran of the hospitality industry, bluntly shares his own history, calling himself a “hard core drug addict and drunk.” He loved to party and play, functioning that way as a Newport Beach, California restaurateur—until he no longer functioned. As his life plunged into chaos, he stole from his employees, his partner, and his next door neighbor. He subsequently lost his restaurant, ended up in a hospital for mental health issues, and was dead on arrival in an emergency room. 

In 1982, Mickey found the help he needed at Alcoholics Anonymous, and he’s quite grateful for them. The problem? People would tell him that he needed to leave the hospitality industry, but Mickey loved the magic of greeting people, serving them food, and being part of this environment. So, he went into the fine dining niche, struggling—successfully—to stay sober.

During the decades of being in the restaurant environment, Mickey witnessed plenty of people destroying their careers and their family—even dying because of their addictions. So, in 2016, he co-founded Ben’s Friends with fellow restaurateur Steve Palmer to offer hope and support to people struggling with addiction. 
You can hear more of Mickey’s story from when he participated in a Roots panel in 2023 titled “A Balanced Kitchen: Mental Health in the Foodservice Industry” and in our Farming for Health podcast with him titled “Ben’s Friends, Community “WE,” and Taking Action.”

Past Episodes of our Farming for Health Podcast

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