Nouri Elmoussaoui’s CV spans some of the best bars in Germany. From The Parlor in Frankfurt to Les Fleurs de Mal in Munich where he is currently Head Bartender, he counts Charles Schumann and Yared Hagos amongst his mentors. Great drinks, great mentors and we’re sure also some very illustrious guests. That’s not it, as the victor of Diageo World Class in 2016 in Miami, he’s climbed the competition circuit too.
But Nouri Elmoussaoui has also seen the other side of the puzzle too. An industry that has globalised and offers more opportunities than ever before, but also one that exerts a lot of pressure on the modern bartender. That’s why we decided to talk to him as one of the most prominent bartenders in Germany, about how he feels the mental health struggle is going, how he thinks the industry can help and how COVID-19 has affected the industry.
After all, the mental health struggle in the booze biz is real – and needs to be addressed.
What brings you to the topic of mental health?
I have worked over ten years in the gastronomy business – and during this time I have seen a lot. It’s a hard business, let’s be honest. You work long, overnight shifts, in an environment based around drinking. On that note, I’ve seen many people suffer from alcohol and substance abuse and I think it’s time to discuss it openly and honestly.
What would you suggest for bartenders to do for their mental health?
Personally, I’ve never suffered from mental health issues. On that note, I have always taken a long look at myself to ensure I’m taking the steps to stay mentally and physically healthy.
For everybody, there are many levels. If things are bad and you’re really struggling you may have to talk to a doctor. Perhaps it’s talking to the Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous for drug and substance abuse. On a less drastic level, sport and good nutrition can help. I’ve been very into boxing over the last few years, which is a great way to clean up your body and your mind.
On that note, we have two boxing classes for bartenders per week in Munich. It’s a great way, like other group exercise classes, to connect with those in the industry – while keeping your spirit up. This social connection is crucial.
Talking about your feelings and your health is crucial. I have a Moroccan background and in my culture it’s something that’s very weak to do. Going to a therapist? It was seen as silly and very weak, but the last couple of years this community has seen a great deal more awareness and understanding. Having mental health issues is nothing to be ashamed of and you should definitely speak about it.
Do you think the bartending industry doesn’t promote honesty or is that changing?
The awareness and honest understanding is coming, but it only started recently with certain people in the industry speaking out. A lot of people still close their eyes about this topic – which is funny as this topic has always been there. Nobody really wanted to talk about it.
In my eyes, when you serve alcohol, you have a lot of responsibility. When you mix that responsibility up with mental health issues and the subsequent alcohol and drug abuse, it’s not good for the industry. That’s why you need brave people to speak out.
How did you personally react to COVID-19?
On a personal level, I have a small flat with my girlfriend in the center of Munich and we were very worried about working two months alone at home, unable to work, socialize or explore the city. But we survived!
I have a lot of friends in Berlin, for instance studying at Humboldt University and many of them struggled with their mental health during this period. With regards to this, there’s been an improvement since the lockdown eased but I am really worried about seeing what happens with a second wave in the autumn/winter. That definitely will be a very hard situation for people to deal with.
On a business level, how did Schumann’s deal with COVID?
Charles and office team were calm and easy. They announced that we were going to close, but told us not to worry. We were calm because Charles was calm. He told us: Nobody will lose their job, everyone will keep their salaries and please call us if there is any issue. So we closed the bar, started to clean and fix things up, and as we serve a lot of food, sorted out the whole food situation, bringing it to the Tafel – a non-profit organization handing out food to those in need in Germany. From that day on, people tried to enjoy their time at home for their own pursuits.
It was kind of a little vacation for everybody, which by the end of April was much easier with the better weather and calmer atmosphere. For example, you could often find Charles alone reading a book at our Hofgarten. And then in mid-May, we opened a small to-go business, as many offices had reopened in the center of the city. This to-go business was very successful for us – like the Zephyr Bar with their slushie program, which Is close to the Isar lake.