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Coffee Rehab and Tackling Addiction

Katy Armendariz is launching a Kickstarter campaign to help fund her dream of starting Coffee Rehab, a shop where people in recovery can work and hang out.

Katy Armendariz thought she had put her past behind her. As a social worker with a master’s degree and a successful company, Minnesota CarePartner, a social justice oriented mental health and chemical health agency, she was the one helping people. And then the political climate in Washington, D.C., changed and she watched friends being deported and clients, such as women in the LGBTQ community, fearing the loss of rights, and her social drinking increased dramatically. 

Her husband, Carlos, was undocumented when he came to the U.S. from Mexico as a young man, and although that’s no longer the case, the backlash against immigrants is painful. 

What really brought it home, she says, is when her young daughter watched the news about the southern border wall, and immigrants being pushed back, and said she was glad she wasn’t Mexican. “But you are Mexican,” Armendariz remembers telling her daughter. And Korean.

Armendariz grew up in South Minneapolis, but she was born in Korea. Her birth mother placed her in an orphanage right after giving birth. As a result, Armendariz says she has issues with identity. Although she had a loving adoptive family, she grew up in a community that didn’t look like her, and she was disconnected from her heritage. Then the supercharged political climate began to take a toll.

When the drinking started impacting her life, Armendariz says she tried outpatient services and to quit on her own before finally committing to joining a 30-day all-in program. “I was worried about being away from my kids and my company,” she says, but her husband convinced her he could handle home and kids while she got healthy. 

She chose Beauterre for its Eastern philosophy focus of yoga and meditation as well as its alternative approaches to addiction, rather than the traditional AA route. She also did outpatient services at Sage Prairie and Wayside. 

Thirty days of self-reflection also made her think about what she wanted to do with her life, and the idea to open a coffee shop that catered to the recovery community came to her. 

The couple is closing on a lease for a building at 36th and Lake in Minneapolis at the end of March, and she is in the middle of a Kickstarter campaign to raise money to fund the project. The building is perfect, she says, not only for its location, but because it has two separate entrances, one that can be used for CarePartners and one for the coffee shop and community center.

The idea is to have a place for people in recovery to both work and hang out, but it’s not just for the recovery community, she stresses. The business plan is to have good coffee, sandwiches and ice cream, and to embrace the community through art for sale by artists in recovery, open mic and karaoke nights, games and activities. As an alternative to late-night bars, it would stay open most nights until midnight. 

Coffee shops are now starting to serve beer and wine, she points out, so Coffee Rehab would be a place where there’s not that temptation. 

“Our mission is to challenge the stigma” of alcohol and drug abuse, she says. 

Her husband, who attends Al-Anon, a support group for people who have a loved one with a drinking problem, says the group loved the idea of a late-night gathering spot. 

The practice of employing workers in recovery is not new. In 1995 Greg Ekborm, a recovering addict, started Day by Day Cafe in St. Paul as a restaurant that offered people in recovery a safe place to work in an alcohol-free space. The charming, eclectic restaurant is still going strong, managed by Ekborm’s daughter, Gena. 


Industry-wide problem

Minnesota has one of the highest levels of recovery in the U.S., Armendariz  learned in treatment. In part because the renowned Hazelden Addiction Treatment Center is located here, along with the Mayo Clinic program in Rochester. 

The restaurant industry is the No. 1 industry for abusing drugs and alcohol, says Carrie Leishman, the CEO and president of the Delaware Restaurant Association, a leader in this subject matter. Part of the reason, for that stat, Leishman says, is because foodservice employs one out of 10 people in her state, and she says that figure coincides with the reality in other states. “We’re a melting pot,” she says of the industry. “We’re fun, exciting, inviting and we’re a culture of high stress and we have access to legal liquor.” In addition, the restaurant industry is the highest employer of workers in the 17- to 35-year-old age range, a group more likely to drink or experiment with drugs.

 About 75 percent of substance abusers are currently in the workforce, she says, and someone on drugs is five times more likely to file a worker’s comp claim than a nonuser. 

In addition, margins are thin in restaurants, which means most don’t have dedicated human resource professionals on staff, she says. In most cases, HR responsibilities fall to the assistant manager who has moved up the ladder, but who has never been trained to deal with problems as serious as addiction. 

“Often we (at the restaurant level) see addiction before their own family does,” Leishman says. 

To combat those strikes against the industry, Leishman says her association has taken the lead on developing a training program that defines the problem and then gives “policies, procedures and practices.” It’s been two years in the making, she says, and vetted by labor attorneys. The online training program is for sale at www.hospitalityhrcenter.com. Training is always a good place to start.  


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