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Grand Forks restaurant owner joins North Dakota's first lady in an effort to end the stigma of addiction

Grand Forks business owner Jonathan Holth, now 13 years sober, is helping North Dakota First Lady Kathryn Burgum advocate for addiction recovery in the state.

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Grand Forks business owner Jonathan Holth and North Dakota First Lady Kathryn Burgum address the Greater Grand Forks Women's Leadership Cooperative about substance use and recovery on Oct. 14, 2021. // Contributed photo
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When the Toasted Frog opened in downtown Grand Forks for the first time in 2006, it was an instant hit, and owner Jonathan Holth found he suddenly had access to three things more than he ever had in his life: freedom, money and access to a bar.

It wasn't long before his alcohol use began to spiral out of control, and his dad and a business partner sat him down in the Toasted Frog's private dining room to have a serious conversation.

"I remember very vividly that conversation. It was time where we just recognized, 'OK, something's got to give here, something's got to be different,'" he said. "I was about to lose everything."

Holth, now in his 13th year of recovery, recently told his story in front of a crowd from the Greater Grand Forks Women's Leadership Cooperative alongside Kathryn Burgum, the first lady of North Dakota. The event was a prelude to her annual Recovery Reinvented event this weekend.

Recovery Reinvented is a key part of the first lady's platform and aims to educate and advocate for addiction recovery. This year it is being held in-person at the Bismarck Events Center as well as virtually on Monday, Oct. 25. The event is free and open to the public with pre-registration.

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Holth is now a member of the North Dakota Recovery Reinvented Council as well as a co-owner of the Toasted Frog and downtown coffee shop Urban Stampede, with a wife and three young daughters. He believes in speaking honestly about his recovery with his children, and each girl has a varying, age-appropriate understanding of his addiction.

That honesty is key to reducing the stigma surrounding substance addiction and recovery, Burgum said.

"Addiction does not discriminate," she said. "It is one of the most inclusive diseases. It doesn't pay attention to your background or your age or your tax bracket. When we break down the barriers of stigma, we come to find that addiction does not have a face. It can look like you or me. And sometimes the signs and symptoms can be silent because of the overwhelming shame and stigma that people face."

This year, they're hoping to encourage more businesses in North Dakota to implement policies to support employees in their recoveries. There's no one-size-fits-all policy for all businesses, Holth emphasized, but at his businesses, he makes it clear to employees that if they ever need to go to rehab, they will continue to be paid during their leave and they will have a job waiting for them when they get back, regardless of how long they've been with the company.

Holth believes part of why his rehabilitation was so successful was because he had access to love and resources. Now, he said, it's his goal to create access to those things for anyone who needs it.

That's especially important in the second year of the pandemic, when stress and isolation have created a spike in alcohol and opioid use and abuse, he said.

"In some ways, the pandemic has opened up opportunities to find more recovery resources," Burgum said.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use, visit helpishere.nd.gov/addictive-resources. If you are in crisis, call 211 for a free, confidential 24-hour crisis hotline.

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Hannah Shirley covers crime, courts and criminal justice for the Grand Forks Herald. She is a 2018 graduate of the University of Idaho and has lived and worked in Grand Forks since 2019. Prior to moving to North Dakota, she worked as a reporter for the Berkshire Record in Great Barrington, Mass., a receptionist for the Moscow-Pullman Daily News in Moscow, Idaho, and a barista in a New York City coffee shop. She can be reached by phone at (701) 780-1267 or by email at hshirley@gfherald.com.
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