Elizabeth (Libby) Levert poses for a photo behind the Free House bar, which is located on Kensington Road in Calgary on Saturday, March 12, 2022. Levert has worked for Free House since it opened in 2020, but COVID-19 restrictions have left many in the industry, including herself, with uncertainty about their jobs. (Photo by Alejandro Melgar/The Emery Weal)

Alberta bars and restaurants come together to act on mental health issues in the restaurant industry after dealing with the effects of COVID-19.

Stigma 86, with 86 meaning to remove an item from a menu, is an initiative that Blindman Brewing’s co-founder, Matt Willerton, started. This initiative combats issues around mental health in the restaurant industry.

Conversations, the beer cans by Blindman Brewing, have stories on the cans from people that have struggled with mental health issues.

This is done to remove stigmas around mental health by sharing their stories to start conversations.

Matty Stewart is the general manager of Free House, a beer and food hall that is a pledge partner with Stigma 86. Their support for the cause involves buying beer can flats.

“Because of COVID, a lot of service staff and back-of-house staff really struggled with the shutdowns. They really struggled with their life coming to a halt and not knowing when their next paycheque was coming,” said Stewart.

“When Blindman [Brewing] came to me, it just sounded like a good cause for the restaurant industry as a whole.”

There are six stories written on the cans, and $5 from each can goes toward the Smiles Thru Lindsey foundation. The cans sell for $12.

The Smiles Thru Lindsey foundation is dedicated to helping teens and young adults that deal with mental illness and distress who don’t have financial support.

“The mental health of staff in the service industry has always been overlooked,” said Stewart.

“I don’t think that much attention has ever been put towards the mental health of servers and kitchen staff, so I was more than happy to put [Conversations] on our menu.”

Talking the Talk

Elizabeth (Libby) Levert poses for a photo while she prepares a screwdriver behind the Free House bar, which is located on Kensington Road in Calgary on Saturday, March 12, 2022. Levert has worked for Free House since it opened in 2020, but COVID-19 restrictions have left many in the industry, including herself, with uncertainty about their jobs. (Photo by Alejandro Melgar/The Emery Weal)

Elizabeth (Libby) Levert is a floor manager at Free House. She advocates for Conversations and the Stigma 86 cause, with herself thanking the people around her for the changes she made.

“If I didn’t have certain conversations with people, and I didn’t stop talking to certain people, I wouldn’t be here,” said Levert.

“It’s very personal because I don’t think that I would have made it super far in life without the support that I have.”

They’re not just supporting drinking, they’re also supporting non-alcoholic, because not everyone needs to be drinking while they’re going through something hard – Elizabeth (Libby) Levert

Blindman Brewing offers an alcoholic seltzer and a non-alcoholic grapefruit and rosemary drink. Levert says the non-alcoholic selection is important because she is nine years clean from hard drugs and alcohol.

“They’re not just supporting drinking, they’re also supporting non-alcoholic, because not everyone needs to be drinking while they’re going through something hard,” said Levert.

Alejandro Melgar

Alejandro Melgar graduated from the SAIT online-print journalism stream. He is the current club president of The Emery Weal, and he is a contributor. You can find his work on LiveWire Calgary and on his website at www.alejandromelgar.ca

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