David Nichols is one of Seattle’s 25 Most Influential People Reshaping Our Region. #mostinfluential
Chef and restaurateur David Nichols would like to talk about the time he hit rock bottom. But he can’t remember it. He was blacked out, driving home after another grueling day and night at work and talking on the phone with his fiancee and business partner Kate Willman.
He got home safely that night, he supposes. The next morning he continued his conversation with Willman and vowed to stop drinking, once and for all. That was almost four years ago. He will celebrate four years sober on February 6.
“I was blackout drunk. I drove. I can’t do this,’” Nichols recalls of the foggy following morning. “I just can’t live my life drunk and hungover anymore.
I woke up and said I’m not doing this anymore. I’m tired of being sick and tired.”
Since then, he opened the casual destination restaurant Eight Row in Seattle’s Green Lake neighborhood with Willman in September 2019.
In November of that year, they launched the local chapter of Ben’s Friends, a national network of support groups for hospitality professionals battling substance abuse and addiction.
The restaurant industry regularly encourages alcohol use. Guests are asked to enjoy alcohol, which tends to be more profitable than the main course. Professionals are surrounded by lots of fixtures and are often rewarded with “shift drinks” or “shifts”, end-of-service drinks on the house and other alcoholic products.
The local chapter of Ben’s Friends meets weekly with crowds in the dozens from all corners of the hospitality industry and beyond. He says the key is to relate to other hospitality professionals in the dichotomy of sobriety in the alcohol-friendly hospitality industry.
“It’s important to be with other restaurateurs struggling with drugs and alcohol and stress,” says Nichols, adding that sobriety is most vulnerable when things are going well. “When you’re flying high, you think everything is great. That’s when my relapses happened.”
Nichols was nominated for a regional James Beard Award this year, and his Green Lake restaurant continues to serve his signature $95 six-course tasting menu, a full à la carte menu, an extensive inexpensive wine list and classic cocktails.
Nichols invites guests to enjoy — although he no longer does.