Community Before Profit

Photo Courtesy of Sarah Dergan

established in 2018

Community Before Profit was born from a deep place in my heart to help and to create positive impact in my community. It was also started as a hashtag for Nana Joes Granola to show that we are a profitable business but we care about our product integrity and our community and we will not jeopardize either for profit. After loosing four acquaintances, friends and past coworkers in 2017 due to suicide and drug overdose, I felt called to action and to use our Commnunity Before Profit domain not only for Nana Joes Granola but as a resource and as a safe place to seek help and advice. 

A bit of revealing history about myself: Growing up I struggled to find my place in this world and I slowly moved into sports, finding soccer as my safe haven. But it still wasn't enough. I always struggled with anxiety and found that I was easily triggered. When I took my first drink at 13 years old I was hooked. It mellowed me out, made me feel life was more manageable and also took the edge off. It also stopped me from taking my own life. I continued to drink to fight my inner demons and swallowed my issues without ever dealing directly with them. I never intended to binge drink, but at 36 it happened. I know now that I can not change my path but instead help change others through insight into my life and others just like me.

And so, more insights: It is so easy to find a "safe" place in the service industry and even easier to hide behind fake smiles and stellar customer service. I will not share with you exactly why I started drinking at 13 but I was a young beautiful little girl who was bright eyed and believed anything anyone told her. I still do to this day and have an amazing group of friends that surround me to help me seek truth.

But, my story: I wanted to be different, a rebel and someone who people feared but lusted after. I have always wanted to fit in but truth be told, Dallas, Texas was never going to be my place. I was suspended from Junior High School for bringing tequila to our Freshman Fling dance. I wanted the attention of a boy and thought that was the best way. Naive, I know, but I still felt it was rebellious: and therefore said boy would fall madly and deeply in love with me, right? That never happened. I continued to struggle through High School, being the outcast and the tomboy. Soccer was the one thing that partially saved me because I was an excellent defender and slide tackler. Honestly, I still struggle to this day but now I know what reality is and I can snap myself out of the stereotypes rather quickly. 

Flash forward: my 20's. I began bartending after sneaking into a bar named Joe's Place in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I was attending UNM, majoring in fine arts. I loved photography and painting. I finally turned 21 and asked for a job and got it at a bar called Fat Chance down the street. I fell in love with the way people looked up to me. I had power for the first time in my life and was flirted with by everyone. It felt good and I felt like I was "home". I knew I had the ability to blackout so I decided to keep my drinks under control so I could do my cash-out and keep my job. I was an incredible bartender. Fast, smart, I could remember orders and drinks. I loved my new job and all my customers loved me and I had a great following. I quickly moved back over to Joe's Place and started working an insane shift. Like open and close the bar, noon to 3am, 3 times a week. It was exhausting but the money was amazing. To keep up with the shifts I was introduced to stimulants. Cocaine became my next drug of choice. I could drink whatever I wanted without blacking out. The down side was the coming down from that type of high because it was never as good as the very first time. But the search continued. So many things surfaced in the come-downs. They became almost unbearable. I slowly became the party girl and I was always the one who was searching for that last drink. My life was spiraling out of control. At 25 years old, I was not making life decisions, just irrational split-second decisions; ones that put me in some seriously scary situations.  I was unsure I would make it into my thirties and this thought was too real. I packed my belongings and moved back to Texas, partly chasing a boy and partly trying to find a different lifestyle: one in which I could be proud of and ultimately would save my life.

Several relationships, moves, jobs later: I decided I wanted to go to cooking school at 30 years old. Since I was a girl, I had found peace in my heart and soul every single time I was in the kitchen cooking with family, so this seemed like a logical step. I took my very first baking and pastry class and instantly fell madly and deeply in love.  And we were only learning the science! I wasn't even in the kitchen yet! I continued to bartend, wait tables and manage restaurants and bars while in school. I decided to leave my long time boyfriend (who was also a cocaine dealer) back in Texas and move to Napa to go to the Culinary Institute of America. This move would get me sober. It, however, did not. I continued to drink, go to school and work as a waitress at Pizza Azzurro in Downtown Napa as well as Stage at The French Laundry. My dreams were coming true and unraveling all at the same time. Those 13 year old girl issues I needed to address and my poor self confidence and trust in myself and my ability were taking me down the rabbit hole on a daily basis. Life was spectacular and tragic inside my head, depending on my mood. I was offered a full time job at the French Laundry in Pastry once school was finished. At the same time my father was having hip replacement surgery so I decided to move back to Texas to help my family out. Looking back now, I knew I wasn't ready to take on the responsibility of growing my career, so I made excuses not to take the job. I needed to get sober and mentally I was not ready to deal with the underbelly of my secrets and pain. My confidence was non-existent. 

I was depressed, miserable and drinking back in Texas. But I was also proud of myself for staying away from cocaine initially.  But not for long. I went back to my old habits and started to spiral. Drinking at night alone after getting home until I passed out. All the self-inflicted pain from drinking became unbearable and I reached out to my family. Sobriety lasted only a few days. I would go out with friends and then drink all night long alone until I passed out. Still bartending and making poor decisions. The only solution was to move again back to California. I loved San Francisco and somehow I knew it would one day save my life. I would drive down from Napa on my days off and park my truck and walk for hours around the city. I loved it and I felt accepted. 

My move to San Francisco was anything but glamourous. I moved with absolutely no money and no place to live but I took a leap of faith. I stayed at the Fort Mason hostel, in Napa with a friend and slept in my truck for three months until I found a job and an apartment. I quickly moved into my apartment and started drinking again. This time heavier than ever before. I was lonely, waiting tables and trying to make friends which has always been hard for me. I know I can be intense and overpowering and I care so much it crushes people. Mix that with anxiety and my friends?  Not a good combination. Think Of Mice and Men when Lennie kills his puppy and then his friend. He crushes them with love. That is how much I intensely love and want to help people but without the murder (don't be scared). I worked at Nopa at night hosting, then food running, and at Chow waiting tables. I wanted to work in the kitchen but it was impossible to get hired because truthfully I did not have the experience that was required. I basically left culinary school and started my own pastry business which was a disaster because again I did not have experience or after-school kitchen training.

I was still drinking myself to sleep every night. While I was working at Chow, one spectacular super human saw my struggles and reached out to me one day during my shift. She said to me "I don't know you all that well but I think you might have a problem. I am not sure what it is but you look like shit when you work the morning shifts and if you continue you might kill yourself." Her words rang so hard in my ears I felt like I would explode. She was right, I needed to stop. Shortly after I moved into a new apartment on 14th and Lake Street, I found myself wandering the streets at 3am searching for a beer and my last memory was at 10pm when I left the bar on April 19th. Yes, 4/20 would become my sobriety birthday. I have no recollection of what happened during that time period. All I know is that I did not go home. I am not sure where I ended up but I do know I was unharmed which is a bit of relief. My coworker's words saved my life because that next morning after almost getting arrested in 7Eleven for causing a scene because they would not sell me beer at 3am (jerks),  all I heard was: "Chel, you are killing yourself".

I called her and she led me to my first AA meeting.  The simple fact that I was not alone and my feeling were shared with so many others made it possible for me to get and stay.  I went back to work at Nopa full time and left Chow. At Nopa I was changing inside. I was becoming more confident and tried out for a pastry job. I didn't get it. This was crushing to me, so I decided to look elsewhere. At this time I was 4 months sober and landed a job a Bi-Rite Creamery: a dream. I was running on the beach every morning  and working out constantly, trying to keep my demons at bay and also I was running up and down stairs at both jobs. My left ankle was killing me and I remember so vividly telling Chef Laurence while we were on the pass (I was still food running): "I feel like there is rubber band in my ankle and it is going to snap". It did. I micro-tore my achilles tendon, putting me out of work for three months. This was extremely hard for me but it also gave me more time to work on staying sober and becoming emotionally stronger. It was a blessing in disguise.

Losing both jobs was tragic. I loved Nopa and I was on the starting team of Bi-Rite Creamery. Both dream jobs. Again two dream jobs were sacrificed. So I started to work in pastry at the Fairmont Hotel and moved to the Four Seasons Hotel and eventually back to the Nopa family as pastry chef of Nopalito. I was there for a year when I developed the first recipe of Nana Joes Granola: the Sunset Blend Granola.

I had the crazy idea of becoming an entrepreneur. Sitting at a table with four dear friends, I said: "I think I am going to start a granola company". I did that next month. Renting a space at the JCC to bake, then eventually leaving Nopalito after my father passed away.

To this day I am sober but not without the help of my community. AA was a great tool for me to see that I was not alone but I get so much more from talking with other recovering alcoholics, recovering drug addicts and people who suffer with anxiety. This is exactly what I have to offer each and everyone of you. My ears, my stories, my hope and my strength. Reach out to me whenever you want. I am not going anywhere. Promise. I want to thank everyone who has lent their hand and ears to me along this path and I only hope I can return the favor to all of you. 

With hope, courage and an open door.