My name is Zia Sheikh and I am a 17 year hospitality industry veteran. The journey from where I started to where I ended up was not easy. When I was a line cook the names of the legendary three-michelin starred chefs inspired me and pushed me to be better every day. Ripert, Vongerichten, Kunz, Keller, Robuchon, Adria, Trotter, and even Julia Child - to be one of the greats required a lot of hard work and dedication to the craft. Hours on your feet doing hours of repetition. Trial and error until you got it right. The benefit at the end was exquisite artistry, craftsmanship, sophistication, teamwork, camaraderie, and indulgence.
The same year I attended culinary school was the same year "Kitchen Confidential" was published. Anthony Bourdain was one of the first chefs to write and speak about the secrets and stories of the gang of macho misfits, drug abusers, and sexual offenders behind kitchen doors. Along with the success of Emeril Lagasse on The Food Network, chefs became rockstars overnight.
It wasn't the fame that attracted me to the hospitality industry. It was the dream of knowing I could nourish people. Knowing that there could be a dining room full of happy guests enjoying the fruits of my labor. Knowing that for a fraction of an instant, I could reach out and touch someone's soul. The major benefit was that I could do it without anyone ever seeing me.
Throughout my years in the industry I began to get into a cycle. I fell into "the dark side" of the hospitality industry and started to abuse alcohol.
The more experienced I became, the harder I pushed. The harder I pushed, the more I drank. The more I drank, the less I thought about how depressed I actually was. For years I abused alcohol and drugs to help me put a band-aid on the demons I was holding within myself.
For years I used this industry as a way to hide from the outside world. I never minded the long hours and broken relationships. I pushed myself forward to learn the craft and work alongside the best.
I struggled with my mental health for decades, until finally, I made the decision that it was finally time to work on myself. It was a hard decision to let those close to me know I was taking a sabbatical from the industry. That I lost all hope and could barely get up in the morning. That I was now struggling to find inspiration in an industry that saved me from previous suicide attempts when I was 19. I thought I would look weak to those around me. However, that was not the case. In fact, it was far from. I now know making the decision to focus on your mental health is not a sign of weakness, but of wisdom and strength.
I took 6 months off from the industry to focus on my own well-being, and I can now proudly say it's time to look for a brighter and healthier future.
And that is why I decided to start Restaurant After Hours. I love this industry. I love the art, the people, and the business of it. I don't want other people following my footsteps. It leads to a dark place that is hard to get out of. Each of us has wings to fly, however some of us just need support in learning how to spread them. I formed Restaurant After Hours to help you soar.
To make it in this industry you need to be mentally strong and focused. However, therapy is far out of reach for most financially. We are here to support you. So you do not have to quit your job. So you do not have to drag yourself through daily living. So you can smile and put together the building blocks of where you want to be. The industry is hard enough, you do not need to be hard on yourself.
You're not alone. Reach out. I am here with you.
Instagram : @chefziasheikh
Twitter : @ChefZiaSheikh
Board Member, Restaurant After Hours
Assistant General Manager, Bricolage
Sara studied psychology as an undergrad at UC Berkeley hoping to gain a deeper understanding of the inner worlds of herself and those around her. She went right to work in restaurants, hostessing at a French bistro, being part of the opening team of a beer and BBQ restaurant, eventually moving on to managing an infamous rowdy college bar blocks away from her Alma Mater for several years.
After moving to New York City she worked in the catering world, West Village pubs, trendy Manhattan fine dining, and even a start-up six-seat takeout cafe. She is currently the Assistant General Manager and Service Manager at a gastropub in Brooklyn, NY.
She is also a recovering alcoholic. She began drinking while working in bars as a way to "loosen up" and become less introverted. Alcohol addiction quickly grew out of control and almost took her life. Having chosen to remain in industry she loves, she is particularly interested in the unique challenges sober people face in hospitality. She is also involved in eating disorder recovery.
Board Member, Restaurant After Hours
Founder, Hospitality Made Simple
Owner, Creamline Restaurants
Harris is the Founder of Hospitality Made Simple, a management company based in his native New York. He graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Hospitality Management in 2006, and from the Culinary Institute of America in 2007.
In 2014, Harris partnered with Ronnybrook Farm Dairy to conceptualize, build, and open CREAMLINE American Classics in Chelsea Market. While managing restaurants in the challenging landscape of New York City, Harris has recognized that restaurant leaders should not only be mentors to employees, but also serve as resources that people can depend on for personal reasons.
As a person who has been in therapy since he was 16, he believes that destigmatizing mental health issues is important to the future of hospitality because it facilitates stability in an often unstable industry and job market. For Harris and his team, being a good person is good business.
Board Member, Restaurant After Hours
Co-Founder, Burlap & Barrel Single Origin Spices
Co-Host, Why Food? On Heritage Radio Network
Ethan is a native New Yorker, entrepreneur and activist around issues of intercultural communication, food systems, and social justice. Ethan has spent significant time in the kitchen as a line cook and pastry chef in New York and London, and as the chef behind Guerilla Ice Cream, an activist ice cream cart that he co-founded. As a humanitarian aid worker, he worked with NGO's including the Aga Khan Foundation in Afghanistan and Doctors without Borders on the Syrian/Jordanian border.
He has been an adjunct lecturer at the City College of New York and an instructor with the Experiment in International Living's Leadership Institute. He is honored to serve on the Board of Directors of the Bond Street Theatre, which uses theater to teach conflict resolution and resilience in areas of instability around the world, and Restaurant After Hours, addressing mental health crisis in the restaurant industry, and on the Advisory Boards of the student-led racial literacy and justice organization CHOOSE and Fragments Theatre, a youth theatre company in Palestine. He is also on the Organizing Committee of the Queens International Night Market.
Ethan holds a dual Bachelors Degree in Conflict Studies and Education and Social Change from the City of New York, and a Master's Degree in Violence, Conflict, and Development from the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies.
On Monday, October 28th, 2019, Zia Sheikh will be moderating a business panel titled "Self-Care, Mental Health & Moving Forward" at this years StarChefs ICC. For more information and to purchase tickets please go to the StarChefs website by clicking here.
To help amplify the organization's message, Zia Sheikh has been working with apps such as Pared, Flex, and Instawork in and around the NYC area to meet other industry professionals and speak to managers about how to build better kitchen cultures. Here, Pared writes about his progress on their blog. Article - click here.
In April 2019 Zia Sheikh sat down with Ethan Frisch of Why Food? podcast on Heritage Radio Network. Him and Ethan speak about kitchen culture and the changes we need to begin to make. Podcast - click here.
When Restaurant After Hours was launched the industry noticed. Here, Zia Sheikh opens up to Erin Lettera of StarChefs about his mental health background and how he started Restaurant After Hours. Article - click here.