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Recovering alcoholic set to 'stare down demon,' manage new Grand Rapids bar

Alcoholism took Rob Schellenberg to rock bottom, where he had to choose between his two addictions - booze or a dream career in the hospitality industry.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Put your recovery first; set up a lifeline; pre-plan your excuses. These are among the many helpful tips for when recovering alcoholics find themselves in situations when they're around and tempted by alcohol.

A tip you won't find on the list is - opening a bar. But, that's exactly what a recovering alcoholic from Grand Rapids is set to do, and he's 100% certain the temptation to take a sip won't out-weigh his desire to make sure his customers are enjoying theirs.

Rob Schelleberg has always had a passion for the hospitality industry. Owning or managing a bar or restaurant has always been one of his life goals.

"My best friend Jason and I have been in the industry for a long time," said Schellenberg, a 2005 graduate of Hudsonville Unity Christian High School. "Originally, we looked at being the first restaurant with a liquor license in Jenison, but couldn't find a property that worked."

In 2017, the guys contacted a property owner on Leonard St. in Grand Rapids, but they ran into parking difficulties with the city, so it ended up happening at a vacant location at 526 Stocking Ave. on Grand Rapids' west side.

"We did our first walk-through in November [2020], then started working back in January," said Schellenberg.

Credit: 13 ON YOUR SIDE
Rob Schellenberg says his ongoing recovery from alcoholism will not lead to temptation, while he manages and bartends at Turnstiles Bar.

Schellenberg's father and sister bought the building and handed it over to Rob to manage. Rob named the establishment, 'Turnstiles,' after one of Billy Joel's albums, which contains songs that helped him come all the way back from alcoholism.

"My alcoholism started later in life," Schellenberg said. "I had some personal things come up that led me to going to the bar every single day."

He said he'd rack up a huge tab, drinking beer and shots of Jamison. He'd stay until closing at 2 o'clock in the morning and either walk to his apartment or call an Uber.

"I didn't think I was an alcoholic because I was still going to work everyday and it really wasn't affecting my job," Schellenberg said. 

While the booze was numbing whatever pain he was experiencing at the time in his life, it was also serving as a road block between him and his dream job.

"It was when I realized I was on a path to misery, I surrendered, admitted I had a drinking problem, and sought help," said Schellenberg.

He knew he had two addictions and that one wouldn't lead to the other. He was addicted to alcohol, while also being addicted to the thought and career goal of wanting to manage a bar or restaurant one day.

"I wasn't going to get my dream done if I was doing that," Schellenberg said, referring to his alcohol dependency. "Life kind of slapped me in the face."

Schellenberg began his road to sobriety, and while there were a few relapses along the way, he remained committed to recovery, and as of Tuesday, March 23, 2021, he's been sober for 530 days.

"I don't want to let people down anymore," he said. "I don't want to let myself down."

Not only does Schellenberg consider himself fully recovered from his alcoholism, he's confident that he can be around alcohol daily at Turnstiles.

"My dad made me the manager," Schellenberg said. "I know I have the tools to stay straight and not use."

Not only is Schnellenberg the manager, he's also going to be one of the bartenders, meaning he'll be pouring and smelling booze all the time, which might trigger most alcoholics, but not Rob.

"One of my favorite things is when someone says, 'Hey, can I get 12 shots for me and my 12 friends,'" Schellenberg said. "I love lining up the shot glasses, shaking and pouring them right in front of them."

He knows alcoholism is a disease he'll have for the rest of his life, but he's certain that he can stare down the demon and do this job because the job is more important to him than the booze.

"If there's a time when things get too stressful for me, everybody working her knows my story and if I need to leave to call my sponsor or catch an Alcoholic's Anonymous (AA) meeting, I can just go, and they'll tell me, 'We got this.'"

Turnstiles isn't open for business yet, but you can keep track of their progress on both Facebook and Instagram: @turnstilesGR

They will have a website, but it's not active yet.

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