Aspen service-industry workers finding strength, relief in mental health gathering

Quinn Gallagher and Lindze Letherman sit atop the Hooch Craft Cocktail Bar on December 23, 2019. Both Hooch staff members helped found the Hospitality Matters group, which aims to raise awareness around mental well-being for local food, beverage and service industry professionals. (Maddie Vincent/The Aspen Times)
Maddie Vincent/The Aspen Times

Just before 11:30 a.m. Monday, more than 20 people sat in chairs and on couches bunched together in the Hooch Craft Cocktail Bar.

Most greeted each other with hugs and hellos; others settled in right away.

They were there for another Hospitality Matters meeting, an awareness effort started by Lindze Letherman, general manager at Hooch, and Quinn Gallagher, bartender at Hooch, in response to losing several of their friends and service industry colleagues to suicide.

Through the bi-monthly meetings in the Hooch bar space, which feature guest speakers and open-ended conversation, Letherman and Gallagher hope to create a more conducive environment to discussing mental well-being with their peers. Monday’s meeting was the fifth one in the past few months.

“We wanted to at least try to get the community together to start talking and realizing that it’s OK to not be OK,” Letherman said.

At the first few meetings, Letherman and Gallagher said many people were reluctant to speak up. But at the more recent gatherings, the 30 or more attendees have been more open to conversations around stress management and mental health.

Both feel that while the reluctance to discuss mental well-being stretches across industry lines, food, beverage and other service staff have a tendency to bottle their emotions and fall into more self-depleting day-to-day schedules than other professions.

“A lot of the mentality in the food and beverage industry is to check your life at the door, go in and take care of others,” Gallagher said. “And the people in our industry are so hard to reach that sometimes you don’t realize there’s a problem until it’s too late.”

Although the Hospitality Matters group just started meeting in October, Gallagher and Letherman said they feel it’s been well received. Service-based businesses including the W Aspen hotel, Hotel Jerome and The White House Tavern have supported the late-morning meetings, and Aspen Mayor Torre has reached out to Letherman and Gallagher and offered to spread the word about the group.

At Monday’s Hospitality Matters meeting, Kathleen Callahan, a licensed clinical social worker and counselor, led attendees through a guided meditation, asking each person to envision a series of tranquil settings and activities behind closed eyelids.

Then, Callahan asked how the meditation made everyone feel.

“I came in here feeling on the verge of a panic attack and started reciting my mantras,” one group member said. “The meditation was so re-centering. That’s all it takes for me, a 10-minute reset.”

After several other food-and-beverage professionals shared their meditation experiences, Callahan led the group through conversations around healthy de-stress techniques, such as meditation, journaling, prayer, reading and exercise.

Since the Hospitality Matters group began meeting, Callahan began offering a free, open hour every Monday from 1 to 2 p.m. to service industry staff who may be in need of counseling services.

Callahan said her son died by suicide about a year ago, and she hopes to provide the Hospitality Matters group with more self-care tools to help the attendees find happiness. She wants to create a culture where the food, beverage and service professionals know how to support each other and utilize the mental health resources the Aspen area has to offer.

“It’s fascinating as a therapist to see a group come together around mental health and well-being,” Callahan said. “I hope the more that the group gets to know each other, the more people feel they can talk about mental health.”

As the group continues to gain traction, Letherman and Gallagher hope to partner with more mental health professionals like Callahan to come speak with service professionals about stress, anxiety, depression, time management and the other issues that arise when people put their jobs and their guests or patrons before themselves.

Letherman and Gallagher also hope to work through some of their own imbalances and struggles through the Hospitality Matters group, and said they are looking for the answers just like everyone else.

“We don’t know what the right balance is yet, we’re all working on it,” Gallagher said. “We’re not able to provide a service through this, but we hope to raise awareness and connect people with the resources they may need.”


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