This Philly Program Is Trying to Help Restaurant Workers Take Better Care of Themselves

Cooks Who Care connects restaurant operators with wellness professionals who can offer low-cost ways to improve their employees' health.

restaurant workers health

Cooks Who Care is a referral network that connects restaurants with wellness professionals to improve the food workers’ health. / Photograph by Scott Campbell

Naimah Rutling knew her career was having a negative impact on her health. As a line cook for five-plus years, at Loews Hotel and the now-shuttered Crescent City, she was constantly on her feet, sometimes taking overnight shifts to cook room service meals. When it came to her own meals, she ate standing up.

She’s not alone. Food and beverage workers often work 80 hours a week, leaving them little time to think about their diet or other aspects of their health. Plus, they don’t want to spend their one day off at the doctor’s office, and many of them don’t have health insurance anyway.

Rutling, though, figured out a way to boost her wellness despite her hectic schedule: She became a fitness instructor and has been teaching group classes for 16 years now — a commitment she credits for helping her start her own catering company, H.E.R. by Chef Nai. “For me, the balance is teaching and working out,” she says. “It helps relieve stress with being in the kitchen. I can’t do one without the other. Or rather, I don’t want to do one without the other.”

Now, she’s spreading awareness of the benefits of fitness and wellness for food workers as an ambassador for Cooks Who Care (CWC). Started by longtime chef Maria Campbell and her fellow chef husband, Scott, CWC is a referral network that connects restaurant owners and managers with vetted wellness professionals, who can offer low-cost options like nutrition consults or yoga classes to keep the restaurants’ workers healthy. “I have friends and people I know in the business who have been beat down to the ground,” Campbell says. “What concerned me was the sustainability of their success and how to keep them in an industry they care about. So I wanted to come up with a solution to hit a cultural new norm, where wellness and well-being is part of kitchen culture.”

restaurant workers health

Vedge Group pastry chef Maranda Burns at an event with Raja Yoga Studio owner Wes Tudor. / Photograph by Scott Campbell

Hence what she calls a “well-being concierge,” which focuses on how restaurant workers can improve their diet, fitness, stress relief/stress management, and finance. She’s aiming to get 100 fitness, wellness, and healthy food businesses into her network by the end of the year, with the goal of 70 percent being Philly-based. “I want to make sure we’re supporting the wellness people who are already in the area,” she says. By January, she hopes to extend CWC to other cities, including New York City, Miami, and Atlanta.

To get the word out for restaurant operators, CWC is hosting Break on Through to Wellness, an expo featuring 20 to 25 wellness experts ranging from personal trainers to nutritionists. James Beard Award–nominated chef and Food Network regular Elizabeth Falkner will lead a bizarre sword workout known as Jungshin, and Laurel chef Nick Elmi will host a talk on alcohol-free drinks. General admission tickets are $45. Restaurants who want the moniker “stewards of health” can pay $100 for an expanded VIP package; check the website for more details.

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