Denver’s first sober restaurant is inching closer to opening and providing an antidote for people looking to make social connections outside of standard booze-focused establishments. The path to creating the first alcohol-free restaurant space in Denver changed this summer for the nonprofit formerly known as SoBar, now called Bar Zero. Despite the name change, the organization remains committed to creating a safe space for people living a sober lifestyle and sober-curious individuals.
Bar Zero's fundraising efforts this spring provided enough resources to create a catering company that will serve the Denver metro area with New American food and non-alcoholic drinks starting this fall. Catering is the first step leading to a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
According to Emily Schrader, the executive director of Bar Zero and a professional counselor, connection is a vital tool to fighting addiction.
“[It's] a big piece that helps people move in a different direction and break negative and unhealthy patterns,” Schrader explains. But the restaurant is not just for the sober community but anyone looking to eat dinner without the pressure of ordering alcoholic beverages.
Schrader wants to add Denver to the growing number of cities witnessing a sober-curious movement that has given birth to new bars and restaurants that don’t serve alcohol. She says that community spaces without alcohol are growing not just for people who have struggled with substance-abuse issues, but others looking for connection, as well.
“[We are] breaking the trend that we’ve had forever over connecting over a substance that prevents connection in a lot of ways,” she points out.
She hopes that providing catering for similarly minded nonprofits and organizations before opening the restaurant will keep overhead costs down and get the brand out.
Bar Zero recently moved fundraising efforts from grants to individual donors and partners because of the difficulty raising money as a nonprofit restaurant and startup. The organization will implement a training program for its employees modeled after Delancey Street in San Francisco, where the talent pool comprises people going through addiction treatment, experiencing early sobriety and living in sober homes.
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Every employee will begin at a basic level and will train others as they move up to other positions. The food will focus on simplicity, health and locally sourced ingredients, Schrader adds.
The nonprofit will also host a spirit-free drink-making competition with some of Denver’s top bartenders this fall as a fundraising effort for the restaurant. Schrader hopes that Bar Zero will still be the first sober restaurant to open in Denver, but she’s not worried about breaking the ribbon, because more alcohol-free spaces could create a healthier community overall.
“We have a lot of options out there for connecting in Denver, [but] most of those spaces are connecting around something that might not be so healthy for all people," Schrader notes. "This is more inclusive, and it fosters a different sort of attitude and outlook on what it means to be healthy."
Bar Zero's Zero-Proof Mix-Off fundraiser is scheduled for September 11, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Dazzle, 1512 Curtis Street.