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Table Beer Launch Prompting Important Tables-Side Conversations

It all began with a Facebook post on February 1st 2018. Shoel Davidson used the #BellLetsTalk platform and campaign in displaying immense amount of vulnerability and courage through a social media post sharing his ongoing challenges surrounding mental health, and sharing the compassion and willingness to help others experiencing the same. It was this post which inspired the beginning of Mind The Bar.

Shoel Davidson, Successful Vancouver-based Restaurateur, and hospitality industry veteran of 20+ years, started as a dishwasher, and worked his way through every aspect of the restaurant scene. “I’ve battled with my mental health throughout my life, including struggling with depression & suicide during my teens, depression & anxiety as an adult, as well as often resorting to alcohol as a coping mechanism to deal with my mental health throughout my hospitality career up until a few years ago.”

In 2017, Davidson recalls a series of events in both his personal and professional life which resulted in heightened depression and anxiety levels – leading him to consider taking an extreme measure – his own life. “It was here that I realized I wasn’t okay and that I needed help.” Davidson continues by saying, “I was (and am) very fortunate to have an amazing circle of loved ones, friends and family around me that supported me in this. However I had a lot of difficulty finding the information, resources, and professional help I needed.”

This moment of realization and self-awareness prompted the start of a journey that led him to be inspired to do something about it, and make a difference towards others sharing similar experiences as himself – especially those working in the industry. Davidson also expresses that at this time he was eager to investigate and find “alternatives towards a more positive lifestyle within the industry that didn’t resort or revolve around the normalized substance abuse that persists within it.” 

“I brought the seed of an idea to my business partner, Christina Cottell, which I’ve opened both Gringo Gastown (6 years ago) and Dixie’s BBQ (3 years ago) with. She was incredibly supportive and urged me on.

This led to my starting a conversation among a select few friends and peers within the hospitality industry, many of whom would later become the founding members of Mind The Bar, about my vision and how change might occur.”

“The enthusiasm and synergy around what we were trying to do was truly special, and we quickly built the initial framework of the Foundation as well as short and long-term goals we hoped to achieve” says Davidson. The goal of Mind The Bar is to operate as an intermediary in connecting people wishing to seek support such as through counselling within the mental health sector.

The intent is to “establish a vetted shortlist of mental health professionals who are interested in working with the Foundation, who offer an affordable sliding scale fee, and [whom] ideally have some background or understanding of the hospitality industry.” Fast forward only a few months after the initial brainstorms and discussions had commenced, and the Mind The Bar Foundation was officially recognized under the BC Societies Act in September 2018. Now registered under the BC Societies Act, the Foundation’s intention is to work with and provide information and assistance to everyone within the hospitality industry throughout British Columbia.

“Mental health is something that affects us all, regardless of where we live, and it is therefore our goal to assist in establishing associated division of the Foundation within each district that will be overseen and governed by local representation. Surrey has a massive and proudly diverse hospitality community that we are already beginning to work with at a grassroots level” Davidson explains.  

Russell Breweries staff, Jimmy Darbyshire and Doug Embury, had known Davidson, and his business partner, Cottell for a few years as they had been an account of the brewery with their Gringo restaurant. The Russell Breweries pair heard about the launch of the Mind The Bar project and saw it as an opportunity to help. “Jimmy & Doug were incredibly supportive of the initiative from the beginning & were very eager to get involved however possible” explained Davidson.

“They (Darbyshire and Embury) approached Christina and I shortly after our launch event about creating a beer specifically for raising funds for Mind The Bar. After speaking with the Board of Directors I told them that if they were going to make an officially collaborative beer it would have to be (a) low-ABV/alcohol, to assist with reducing excessive drinking within the hospitality community, (b) inexpensive, because we wanted it to be affordably available to everyone no matter how limited their budget may be, and (c) very drinkable, because we wanted it to be easily enjoyed by everyone. The boys at Russell took these ‘guidelines’ and their MTB Belgian table beer was the end result.”

When asked why they chose this particular beer for the collaboration, Russell Breweries Darbyshire explains how “the “Table Beer” was very fitting as that is where a lot of conversation happens, at the table.

It drove home the idea that we need to talk about the problems our industry is currently facing.” “I think it speaks for itself that they knocked it out of the park on this one, and the sales tell me I’m not wrong” says Davidson about the low alcohol alternative that is helping bring awareness and raising money.

To learn more about the Mind The Bar initiative, check out their website here. Although the website is currently under construction due to the mass amount of information, resources, and hours required to go-live, you can still find information on certain resources and information on how to get involved. Although an official ‘go-live’ date cannot be confirmed at this time, Davidson confirms that they are working as hard as they can in order to launch a functional ‘Phase I’ stage of the website very soon.

The goal is to have the initial launch assist people in better navigating pertinent resources and information such as requesting assistance in finding mental health professionals, and information on the Foundation itself – how to volunteer or become a member. “The website will be constantly evolving as we gather more information, resources, feedback, and as the Foundation and mental health awareness within the hospitality industry grows” explains Davidson.

What’s most amazing about the evolution of this Foundation in such a short time is that all of the “the recognition and reputation surrounding Mind The Bar has spread solely by word of mouth. Initially, within the immediate Vancouver hospitality community following our launch in June 2018, then gaining international attention after our first place win in the 2018 Tahona Society’s Collective Spirit Competition” recalls Davidson.

In addition, Davidson adds that the amount of popularity and support the Mind The Bar Foundation has received has “a lot to do with the overall and increasing readiness of the hospitality industry, and society in general is to acknowledge the subject of mental health, and the desire to breakdown the stigma surrounding it.”

“When we first began speaking about some of the struggles we expected to encounter introducing Mind The Bar to the Vancouver and BC based hospitality industry, we believed it would take us at least a few years to convince our peers and the greater restaurant community that not only was there an egregious problem with mental health, addiction and workplace harassment within our industry but that it was long overdue to change the mentality and perspective around it.

What we discovered is not only were we wrong about how many were ready to listen and get involved in making a positive change but the amount of praise we received for ‘finally’ doing something about it” says Davidson. Russell Brewery began with two brothers in 1995, back when craft breweries were next to none. As one of the original 10 craft breweries in BC, they put Surrey on the map as being an early leader in the craft brewery scene.

Now, Russell Brewery has not only successfully passed the test of time over two decades, but has continued to grow and prosper amongst the 200+ breweries province-wide! They even underwent a rebrand over the past two years and freshened up and diversified not only their branding, but their beer offerings as well! “We have since traded hands a few times [since launching in 1995], but our mission is still the same – to offer innovative and exciting Craft Beer to this ever-evolving market” says Darbyshire.

“Although presently, Mind The Bar official membership is still limited to its original founding members, we have dozens of individuals who have been volunteering their time and assisting us with numerous facets of the Foundation as we continue to build the initial framework necessary to best utilize the skills and enthusiasm of new membership. Something we will be doing within the immediate next few weeks is the preparation for our upcoming AGM” says Davidson.

Davidson continues, “There’s still a long road ahead but something I’m most excited about it this next chapter when we can finally open the doors to new members.”

As for the Russell Brewery beer collaboration – you may be wondering, will this beer be continuously sold or is it a campaign with a closed-frame of time? Darbyshire says “We would love this to be an ongoing campaign. I think there is lots of opportunity to build on what we have already started.” And with an additional $6,000+ aimed to fundraise through the collaboration prior to year-end, time to buy to support an amazing cause! Partial proceeds from each 4-pack and keg sold will be donated directly to Mind The Bar Canada. For a list of the 300+ locations currently carrying the beer (to consume on tap or to purchase), check out the list here.

To follow Russell Brewing Company, check them out on their affiliated pages:

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Robyn Freiheit

Robyn Freiheit

Robyn is a status-quo disruptor, an old-soul, and has a serious passion towards continuous learning driven by a curiosity for the unknown. A creative and equally analytical thinker with experience in leadership, project management and marketing strategy. When she’s not working you can find her in the kitchen, searching for new music, or meandering local thrift stores, antique stores, or flea markets for a unique find.