Health

Seven Drinks Pros Launch Side Gigs in the Health Space

How forward-thinking industry veterans are bringing wellness—from a health podcast to mindfulness training, yoga, and gardening therapy—to the forefront

Kat Thomas. Photo by Erin Cooper.

For many in the drinks business, practicing wellness can be a challenge. Is it possible to safeguard one’s own physical and mental well-being in an industry that often fails to prioritize those values? 

“Certainly, the unique part of our industry is really the frequency and the volume of what we work with…wining, dining, travel,” explains Rebecca Hopkins, vice president of communications for Folio Fine Wine Partners. In 2018, Hopkins founded A Balanced Glass, a platform devoted to providing health and wellness resources for wine professionals. “The employee handbook rarely provides any guidance around moderation or behavior around alcohol or how to navigate it,” Hopkins adds. 

A growing number of forward-thinking drinks professionals are following in Hopkins’s footsteps. Recognizing the need to prioritize health and wellness, they’re creating new businesses to help change the industry for the better. 

Emily Gold, left, and Liz Danneels, right. Photo by Kim Huggins.

Liz Danneels and Emily Gold, Wine Professionals and Cofounders of The Fine Line Podcast

Back in 2017, Liz Danneels and Emily Gold’s friendship was just beginning to blossom. Gold was running her now-shuttered wine bar, PMG, in Boulder, Colorado, and Danneels, a partner in the Denver-based wine distributor Natural Wine Company, was her wine rep. Soon, the pair realized they had more in common than a passion for wine: In the past, both had struggled to square healthy lifestyles with careers in hospitality.

“I was the party girl when I was younger,” Danneels says. “I dated a chef, and I went out eight nights a week—and I was in New York City.”

“I used to literally say out loud to people, ‘I am just trying to have the right balance of caffeine and alcohol at all times,” Gold recalls. 

A traumatic tipping point came for the women when a mutual wine industry friend, Michael Joyce, died by suicide in 2018. “He was larger than life, the life of the party,” Danneels says. “But deep down, I think there was a lot of sadness that he covered up by being that.”

“Mike might be part of the reason that we have the same kind of connection over health and wellness,” Gold adds.

When the pandemic struck earlier this year, Danneels and Gold found their respective industries on an indefinite pause. With more time on their hands, the pair launched The Fine Line, a podcast devoted to understanding how people in a range of industries successfully balance their love of eating and drinking with health. The podcast’s first season features interviews with such industry insiders as Ashley Hausman MW, sommelier Richard Betts, winemaker Raj Parr, elite-athlete trainer Erin Carson, and Todd Dorfman, M.D. 

The purpose of the podcast, Danneels and Gold explain, is to get people in the food and wine industries to be more honest about their experiences with health and balance. They also hope that people in the medical and wellness fields will share details about their behavior. 

“We live in this ‘Instagram life,’ where everything looks perfect,” Danneels says. “But the fact is, especially as we age, the stuff that we used to be able to do can’t be maintained anymore. Those that are still trying to do it are not in good health.”

Keyatta Mincey Parker. Photo courtesy of Keyatta Mincey Parker.

Keyatta Mincey-Parker, Bartender and Founder of A Sip of Paradise Community Garden

A half-acre community garden brimming with herbs, fruits, and vegetables, A Sip of Paradise is the work of Keyatta Mincey-Parker, bartender at New Orleans-inspired seafood spot Bon Ton in Atlanta. She came up with the idea for the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation’s Most Imaginative Bartender Competition, which asked contestants to create projects that reflected their creative passion. 

Although Mincey-Parker didn’t win the contest (she was one of 12 national finalists), that didn’t stop her from turning A Sip of Paradise into a reality. The garden, launched weeks before the pandemic ground life in Atlanta to a shrieking halt, continues to be a refuge for stressed-out bar workers, who can rent plots for a nominal fee each growing season.

“There’s really no place just for bartenders,” Mincey-Parker says. A Sip of Paradise is a world away from the stresses of the bar, she explains. “You don’t have to clock in. You’re on your own time. You put your phone down. You’re not listening to people yell at you. You’re in your own bubble. You have your own plot. You can grow whatever you want. It’s grown into a beautiful community.”

Is gardening wellness? “Totally,” Mincey-Parker says emphatically. In addition to offering members the meditative quality of pulling out weeds and planting seeds, the garden provides free wellness programming, including meditation and yoga sessions. And the garden’s potential benefits extend far beyond its verdant plots. 

“Honestly, happy bartenders means better cocktails,” Mincey-Parker states.

Alex Jump. Photo courtesy of Alex Jump.

Alex Jump and Lauren Paylor, Bartenders and Cofounders of Focus On Health

After working in the drinks business for more than a decade, Alex Jump, the bar manager at Death & Co. Denver, had come to the conclusion that the industry had failed its workers. At the eight establishments where she’d worked during that time, only two provided health insurance. Late nights, irregular hours, and inconsistent pay meant that her physical and mental health were always on the line. 

“I took home cash every night, and nobody ever taught me how to save money or talked to me about finances,” Jump recalls. “How do you prepare your taxes when you work as a freelancer with a 1099? There’s obviously fundamental things that need to change.”

Focus On Health provides “resources on any kind of wellness—physical, emotional, financial—because those are all things that our industry just isn’t providing for people,” Jump says. She originally devised the idea for the platform for the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation’s Most Imaginative Bartender Competition and was named one of 12 national finalists. When the pandemic hit, Jump decided to move forward with the project and asked Lauren Paylor, an award-winning D.C.-based bartender and former nursing student, to be her cofounder.

Lauren Paylor. Photo courtesy of Lauren Paylor.

“When you’re in the bar industry—I think especially when you’re younger—you’re very accustomed to being out very late, then getting off your shift and having drinks or shots at the bar down the street and eating anything that you can possibly get your hands on,” Paylor recalls. “It was just destructive.”

Focus On Health seeks to help those who face similar challenges. The online programming hub offers panel discussions and Instagram Live events that feature experts ranging from therapists to financial counselors. It also provides resources such as prerecorded yoga sessions and therapeutic writing sessions. The goal, Jump adds, is not only to provide hospitality workers with support, but also to offer it in a way that’s compatible with the drinks business’s often erratic work schedules.

“My therapist works 9 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday, my yoga studio only has classes from 7 am until 5 pm,” Jump says. “How do you get the things you need when you don’t work a schedule that is the same as the majority of the population? Our goal is to have conversations that, frankly, a lot of people are uncomfortable having,” she adds. “We can be a part of finding the solution.”

Kat Thomas. Photo by Erin Cooper.

Kat Thomas, Advanced Sommelier and Founder of CORE Body|Mind

As a banquet-hall server at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas for 13 years, Kat Thomas learned firsthand how industry-standard overindulgence can lead to unhealthy habits. “I started experimenting and playing with different ‘products’ and drinking quite a bit for my size,” Thomas recalls. “I pulled myself out of it because I wanted to,” she adds. “Not everybody wants to…or they don’t even know how to go through the fire.”

Meditation and yoga were key to Thomas’s recovery, and she continued  to rely on those practices as she moved up in the world of hospitality, first as a Court of Master Sommeliers-trained Advanced Sommelier and later in her role as education and training manager for the Hakkasan Group. Surrounded by young industry professionals—who often struggled with substance and health challenges—Thomas began integrating mindfulness into her training sessions.

“I would start us off with taking a few deep breaths,” Thomas says. “I would explain it as, ‘We are resetting ourselves, we are getting ourselves really in tune so we can taste and feed our minds and get the blood and oxygen flowing.’” 

Soon, Thomas was leading Hakkasan Group training sessions around the country, and her teams responded to her approach. “My favorite session was in Texas,” Thomas recalls. “Cowboy hats all over the place! I ended up getting a really great response from it.”

When the pandemic hit and Thomas was furloughed from the Hakkasan Group, she decided to launch her own mindfulness business, CORE Body|Mind. It opened in May 2020 and offers everything from expressive dance and strength-training sessions to yoga-with-wine classes (sometimes in a vineyard), which include participants sipping their way through various asanas. Her skills have been in demand: Thomas served as “yogi guide” at this year’s Full Circle Beverage Conference and also spoke on a mental health awareness panel at this year’s SommCon conference. Although her platform is inspired by her experience in the drinks world, Thomas says her lessons are designed for a broader audience. 

“It’s not just for hospitality,” Thomas says. “Mindfulness is for everyone.”

Amie Ward. Photo courtesy of Amie Ward.

Amie Ward, Bartender and Founder of The Healthtender

Amie Ward wants bartenders to start thinking of themselves like endurance athletes. “They are behind the bar for eight to 12 hours a day, and they’re not fueling their body that way,” Ward says. “They’re not participating in active recovery in the way that an athlete would.”

Ward’s thinking comes from a dual background in sports and bartending. An ACE Certified Health Coach who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in kinesiology,  Ward has also tended bar for years—and seen how the industry can wreck bodies. As a result, she founded The Healthtender, a consultation service that helps bartenders get and stay healthy, in 2016. Today, Ward works with about 40 clients on a regular basis.

Bartenders require specific core workouts, balance exercises, and recovery tricks tailored to their needs, Ward explains. “You have wells [behind the bar] that are cutting you off at your knees and forcing you to pitch forward, causing misalignment in your lower back,” she says. “There’s over-hunching of the shoulders, because you have to lean across the bar and talk to your guests. [If] your feet are getting messed up, everything that happens to your feet rotates up the body to your hips and then to your shoulders. Everything is connected.”

Even something as simple as shouting orders in a loud bar for hours can take its toll. “I ended up blowing out my vocal cords and having to have surgery a couple of years ago,” Ward recalls. “Now I teach people to speak from the diaphragm, not your throat.” 

Ward hopes that her work will help foster an understanding among bartenders—and their employers—that health is as important as the bottom line. “It is absolutely a very unique population that has a very specific set of risk factors,” she says. “The industry can’t ignore it anymore.”

Rachel Tepper Paley is a food, travel, and lifestyle content writer and editor based in New York City.

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