Restaurant Owner Seeks to Stop Stigma

Feb 26, 2024

Nicholas Pitillo, owner, Osteria 166 and Villaggio shares his efforts to encourage his employees to get help for mental health challenges.

As a leadership group, we realized that mental health problems were WAY more prevalent than we thought. Pre-pandemic we were experiencing some challenges related to mental health and increased alcohol and drug use. We have experienced everything from family struggles to staff members dying…we then decided that we could not sit idly by any more. We were part of initial meetings at Black Sheep to address this issue and began working with the Family Meal Hospitality Trust. Getting a group of industry leaders together to talk about our challenges, and those of our people.

From there we began sharing information from Crisis Services WNY with EVERY to-go package we sell. This peaked during the stockthefreezer.com days, but continues to this day. We also have wonderful contacts at Horizon Services, which has allowed us to offer additional assistance to our team members in distress. This has proven invaluable, and has helped many of our team members. However, it continues to concern me about how many of our staff has refused this additional assistance.

Additionally, around two years ago we learned about an amazing app through our membership in the New York State Restaurant Association. The App is called Heathiest You…and is a revolutionary app that provides online medical and mental health services through their phone. The program is low cost and the service is fantastic. We introduced it to our staff and have seen some take advantage. However, we continue to have fewer than 20% of our team signed up. We realized that part of the problem was people’s fear of being perceived as “weak” for using the app…or seeking mental health assistance. It was then that we realized it was our obligation to help remove that stigma. We now open EVERY weekly management meeting with a discussion on Mental Health and Healthiest You. The app is completely confidential, however we still saw hesitation…so myself and a couple of our managers (who use the app) started having more dialog about our experiences and the benefits it can provide. It seems to soften the “stigma” when their direct supervisor is open about our own mental health experience.

I am proud to say that Heathiest You has had a VERY positive impact on my personal life and work life, and I am able to speak freely about how the program works. We hope to continue to increase the number of our team that utilize the program, but we need to find easier ways to get them access. Currently they need to notify an owner if they want in…which, I believe causes increased hesitation in some.

We continue to look for new ways to address this ongoing problem.

Photo Credit: Joed Viera, Buffalo Business First

I am proud to say that Heathiest You has had a VERY positive impact on my personal life and work life, and I am able to speak freely about how the program works.

Nicholas Pitillo

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