How Lauren Paylor Has Helped Hospitality Colleagues Navigate Difficult Times - Imbibe Magazine Subscribe + Save

How Lauren Paylor Has Helped Hospitality Colleagues Navigate Difficult Times

The COVID-19 crisis has had an unprecedented effect on the hospitality industry, and will likely permanently reshape the way bars and restaurants operate. Throughout 2021, we’ll be turning to bartenders, bar owners, and other industry figures, asking them to share their stories about how the COVID crisis has affected their lives and livelihoods, and what’s giving them hope and direction for the months to come.

For this installment, we spoke with Lauren Paylor, a bartender in Washington, D.C., and co-founder of Focus on Health, an initiative that provides health and wellness resources, programming, and outreach for workers in the hospitality industry. This interview has been edited for space, clarity, and context.

I had convinced myself that 2020 would have me traveling a lot. I figured I’d be working at Silver Lyan, and on my days off I’d visit different cities and countries, and guest bartend, teach classes, etcetera. Yeah…

I’d celebrated my birthday in early March, and I was trying to figure out what my travel plans were going to be. I’d finished chatting with Alex Jump [the head bartender at Death & Co Denver] about plans to collaborate. Alex and I had been friends for a couple of years—we used to be brand ambassadors for Nelson’s Green Brier Distillery in Nashville—and she’d had an idea called Focus on Health, which she pitched at The Most Imaginative Bartender Competition in 2019. She’d been posting a lot about health and wellness, the importance of speaking up when we’re encountering difficulties, and listening to our bodies to take care of our health. I was also going through a health and wellness journey then—I’d lost a significant amount of weight, was feeling great, and wanted to spread that knowledge and help others feel the same way. So I reached out to her, just to have a conversation because at the time I was like, “If we’re going to be doing similar things, I’d rather do it together, so we’re complementing each other.”

We planned a trip for me to go to Denver to discuss this further, and then COVID happened and the trip was canceled. A couple of weeks after I’d been laid off officially from Silver Lyan, we got together to create some virtual programming. I realized that I needed to figure out what my plans were for the future—and even at that point, we didn’t realize that a year later we’d still be in that same position. So it’s interesting—it happened in the perfect time with the most unfortunate events.

We decided to co-found Focus on Health and really make it happen. Initially, all of the programs would be virtual, and the premise and basis of it was that we would work with experts in the food and beverage industry to have conversations about difficulties and hardships that we encounter when it comes to health and wellness. And we’d work with experts from outside our field, such as therapists or doctors, to find ways to better cope with the things that present difficulty.

So we established five pillars that we felt were closely associated with issues we deal with in the food and beverage industry. These pillars include physical wellness—when we’re working in a way where we have constant movements, it’s important that we’re implementing practices to ensure we’re using proper body mechanics and not deteriorating our bodies. There’s also financial wellness, and acknowledging that unless you work in a corporate setting, you’re probably not getting a 401(k) or really planning for your future, and financial literacy and planning for our future is extremely important. We also wanted to place some emphasis on social wellness, taking into consideration our interpersonal relationships in the food and beverage industry—it’s important those relationships are healthy, because they affect your health and wellness. Environmental wellness is also important, taking the opportunity to discuss how you can make small changes that still have a big and lasting impact. Finally, mental wellness, which encompasses everything.

We spent the first few weeks thinking about things that have helped us, to place ourselves in a position where we could help others. In the beginning, it was like, “Okay, what can we do? What resources can we provide?” And that transitioned into, “People are still out of work. How can we really support them?” So we started our newsletter. Our newsletter works with [hospitality workers] and pays them for their contributions, while bringing in writers and editors to teach them about professional writing through our monthly workshops. What we really want to do is pay these folks for their time, but also provide them with tangible skills they can utilize to be paid by other companies. It’s an opportunity to learn and to do something they might not have been willing to do before.

I’m very blessed, very lucky. Focus on Health is primarily what I do now, and the team we have—in addition to Alex and myself, it includes Joshua Gandee in Ohio, Dani McQuarrie in Kentucky, and Karina Martinez in Sacramento—they’re really working hard to ensure that we’re in a place where we can give back. It’s very fulfilling, and it’s important to me at this point that I can help as many people as I can, who may not necessarily have the same good fortune.

Click here to learn more about Focus on Health.

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