On a Wednesday evening in mid-April, Kevin Morrison bustles through the brick-walled dining room that houses his new City Park concept, Rolling Pin Pizza. Clad in a flour-dusted T-shirt and apron, he chats with a Denver Post reporter about the restaurant’s opening as servers bring out house-made chicken liver mousse with pillowy bread and 12-inch pans of pizza crowned with cupped pepperoni and slivers of red onion.

Rolling Pin serves a tight lineup of tasty small plates and the thin-crust, “tavern-style” pies Morrison grew up eating in his native northwest Indiana. The concept replaced the original location of Tacos Tequila Whiskey, the beloved contemporary taco spot he shuttered this past February due to declining sales (the Highland location is still open). While it’s sad news for fans of the joint’s margs and carnitas-topped tortillas, the shift is a positive turning point in Morrison’s professional and personal life. That’s because closing the restaurant was a large step in Morrison’s recovery from a months-long major depressive episode, which he only began to resurface from this time last year.

“I woke up one day [in January 2023] and couldn’t get out of bed,” he says. “The world fell apart. I didn’t care about work… I was afraid to go outside, afraid to look at my emails, afraid to answer the phone.”

Morrison, 59, was diagnosed with depression when he was in high school and has been on and off medication since 1990. But after experimenting with psilocybin a couple summers ago and attempting to microdose it for a while in hopes of managing his anxiety and depression symptoms, he and his mental health deteriorated until he hit rock bottom that January.

Feeling hopeless, Morrison thought about checking himself into a psychiatric hospital but made the decision to go back to his former psychiatrist. After a successful therapeutic and pharmaceutical treatment, he realized that his symptoms were exacerbated by the stress of trying to manage too many restaurants—he owned five at a time at one point. Morrison is satisfied with a less-is-more approach now, though: Over the past few years, Tacos Tequila Whiskey has downsized from four brick-and-mortar outposts to one in Highland, and he also owns Rolling Pin Pizza and RiNo’s Fish N Beer. “I put all this weight on me about how I had to keep growing this restaurant business,” he says. “I wasn’t happy.”

Because he wouldn’t be able to function in the world today without it, Morrison wants to share his story in hopes of encouraging other hospitality industry members to seek mental health support. He feels lucky to have access to mental health care, something he acknowledges isn’t the case for many in lower-paying restaurant roles, such as bartenders, servers, and chefs. On the whole, service employees are more likely to report symptoms of depression and stress than those in other sectors due to the precarious nature of their work (e.g., unpredictable wages, lack of benefits, and a lack of control over work hours).

In 2018, the nonprofit Mental Health America reported that a lack of mental health support, toxic work environments, and widespread substance use make the food and beverage industry one of the United States’ top three worst workplaces for mental health (the others are retail and manufacturing). And problems only intensified through the pandemic because of supply chain disruptions and a low availability of well-paying jobs, among other issues, says Erin Boyle, CEO of Culinary Hospitality Outreach Wellness (CHOW). The six-year-old organization helps culinary industry members connect and discuss the problems they’re facing. Boyle says that when they started at the organization in 2019, CHOW only hosted one support group a week, but increasing demand has pushed the organization to add eight more sessions.

“We also offer a lot of education resources so that folks can understand [what they’re going through],” Boyle says, “because I think you can’t fix what you don’t know. So if you don’t understand that the things that you’re dealing with are anxiety, depression, addiction, then you can’t help yourself.”

CHOW also partners with In the Weeds, which aims to create a local restaurant community and culture that promotes healthy lifestyle choices and spaces for open discussions. The five-year-old Durango-based organization incentivizes service workers to develop good habits by offering free access to outdoor gear and hosting substance-free gatherings, often amid the beauty of southwest Colorado’s natural landscapes. Last year, more than 500 hospitality industry members participated in its programs—but founder and executive director Blaine Bailey says there are a lot more people out there who need help.

Bailey says legendary chef Anthony Bourdain’s suicide in 2018 was a wake-up call for many industry members to open up about how working in bars and restaurants can impact your mental health and the negative stigma around seeking help. Morrison, Boyle, and Bailey all have multiple friends who have committed or attempted suicide, suffer from substance abuse, or are dealing with other health issues worsened by their jobs. “As we’re in an industry of helping others, we first need to be able to serve ourselves,” Bailey says.

Back at Rolling Pin Pizza, Morrison recently launched lunch service on Saturdays and Sundays, and an outpost of Tacos Tequila Whiskey also opened at Denver International Airport this month (it’s operated by a concessionaire, though). Thanks to the work with his psychiatrist, he feels comfortable in his skin again and wants others to know that happiness is worth fighting for.

“No matter how bad you might think you have it, tomorrow’s a new day,” he says. “You gotta keep believing that you’ll get through this.”

Patricia Kaowthumrong
Patricia Kaowthumrong
Patricia joined the 5280 staff in July 2019 and is thrilled to oversee all of the magazine’s dining coverage. Follow her food reporting adventures on Instagram @whatispattyeating.