BY MATT SALIS
They are the hot new caterer in the Denver culinary scene, and they are doing things differently – making a difference not just with their delectable food, but especially with their mission. They are Bar Zero, and if you haven’t heard of them in our Wash Park community yet, you soon will. Their culinary creations are divine (I’ve experienced Chef Paul Rose’s offerings first hand), but that’s just the beginning. Their slogan is Connection, Cuisine and Community, and the way they live up to that mantra is what sets Bar Zero apart.
Executive Director, Emily Schrader, has personal experience with the alcohol and drug abuse that plagues people working in the restaurant community. In 2005, she took a vacation from her restaurant job, and ventured to New York with friends to party and attend a bunch of concerts. In addition to the copious amounts of booze she drank, Emily was into cocaine and risky behavior at the time. She knew how close she was to the edge of disaster and tragedy. Her life was dangerously out-of-control. If she made it back alive, she vowed to stop drinking. The blow-out trip didn’t kill her, and she’s been sober for 14 years now.
Emily did what a lot of people do when they face trauma and disease. She got involved with the battle against the poisons that nearly took her down as a Licenced Professional Counselor and Certified Addiction Counselor level 3. She had personal experience with addiction, then she learned to treat people in the same predicament. But she longed to get back to her roots in the restaurant business. Until last year, Bar Zero was a concept – an idea – that Emily dreamed about to bring all of her passions together. Now her concept is a reality, and her unique approach is already having a major impact.
Bar Zero isn’t just fantastic food and a unique dry bar experience creatively serving delicious alcohol-free mocktails. They also provide job training for people in the addiction recovery community. Emily and her team aren’t concerned with profit and scaling their business. They want to create connection and help people recover from the disease that nearly cost Emily her own life.
But the community connection goes even deeper. You see, Bar Zero operates as a 501(c)3 non-profit. This allows them to seek grant money so they can give back and reach people trying to get their lives on track. For example, Bar Zero uses grant money received to provide their high-end culinary experience to recovering alcoholics and addicts who could otherwise not afford it. Now people in sober living homes can not only learn culinary job skills through Bar Zero, but they receive gourmet meals on an affordable budget while they get back on their feet. Connection, Cuisine and Community – it’s not just a catch-phrase. Bar Zero is walking their talk.
They had their first major fundraising event in September. I asked Emily if it was a typical dinner event with a gourmet meal in exchange for donations. Emily looked at me with a mischievous grin on her face, and explained that the event was anything but typical.
Local mixologists crafted original mocktails using high-end, zero-proof beverages and a whole lot of creativity in a competition for the tastiest alcohol-free concoction. Emily arranged for local celebrities to judge the mix-off, and also awarded a people’s choice award by tallying the votes of all in attendance. VIP donors were treated to an exclusive session where specialty zero-proof drinks were paired with unique and tantalizing culinary creations.
The event was unlike anything before in the restaurant or addiction recovery communities, and it kick-started Bar Zero’s sustainability. While Emily plans to focus on growing the catering and dry bar business in 2020, she also continues to explore her ultimate goal of having a physical restaurant and dry bar location, perhaps in the Five Points, River North neighborhood.
Serving high-end cuisine and creative craft mocktails in a restaurant of their own – an alcohol-free venture – would be a first-of-its-kind in Denver or anywhere in the mountain West. Fueled by the sober-curious and gray-area-drinker trends to explore life without alcohol, dry bars have been popping-up in New York and other major cities. Emily plans to be the first to bring an upscale dining and zero-proof drinking experience for us to enjoy.
Bar Zero is not just for people in recovery. It is for people who want to take a break from alcohol and try something new that fits better with their healthy lifestyle. It is for friends and family of those in recovery who want to dine out inclusively without making their sober friends feel uncomfortable or tempted to drink. And Bar Zero is for people without addiction who want to explore the hype about living a fuller, more authentic life, alcohol free.
For Emily, Bar Zero is all about taking what she learned from personal addictive experience, clinical training and experience in addiction recovery, years in the restaurant business, and blending them together to be part of the solution. She hasn’t been able to tame the risky behavior from her days of drinking and using. She is taking enormous personal and financial risk on this non-profit venture with community at its core. If anyone can pull it off, Emily Schrader has proven to me that she has what it takes to make it in an ultra-competitive culinary world.
To get involved with this delicious mission, you can volunteer or make a donation at their website, barzerodenver.org. You can also support this mission by partnering for your next catered event with Emily and the Bar Zero team. If catering is in your future, why not give the order to the people who are giving so much back to our community.
Matt Salis writes, speaks, podcasts, directs a non-profit, leads an early sobriety program, coaches soccer at Denver South H.S. and runs (very slowly) around the crushed-gravel path that surrounds our beloved Wash Park a couple of times a week. Read more from Matt at SoberAndUnashamed.com.