At All Costs: How one man went from Wall Street and addiction to respected restaurateur
Mike Carter grew up in a Brooklyn neighborhood dominated by the power and influence of the real-life men who inspired movies like Goodfellas. Then, he began his career during the era of drug-fueled excess on Wall St. It wasn’t long before his life began to spiral out of control.
Fast-forward to: the FBI has a warrant out for his arrest, he’s addicted to heroin, and he runs to Seattle, “determined to die.”
And yet, here is he today – a sober, successful, and well-respected chef and GM of multiple Seattle-based eateries, who dedicates his time to helping support and employ men in recovery.
How did he get here? Check out this video for a glimpse into his remarkable life story.
Below is a transcript of the video, edited for readability.
Mike Carter: So I’m probably about two foot high. My mother was like, “Listen, I’m gonna teach you how to cook.” I used to have this, like, little stool, so I could see over the stove. There was no caution about it. It was fun. It was creative.
12, 13, 14 years old. All these gangsters that were in movies, were just neighborhood local guys in my neighborhood. That’s what growing up in Brooklyn’s like, you know, playing stickball in the street, doing petty crimes around the neighborhood, seeing these guys and trying to impress them.
I was like one of the first of my friends to cook up cocaine and turn it into crack. Same thing with shooting heroin and finding a vein. I’m talking to my buddy Chris one day, I’m about 17, 18. I see a local guy driving this $150,000 automobile, and I’m like, “What are they doing?” “The kid’s a moron.” “How is he earning this kind of money?”
My friend Chris is like, “He works on Wall Street.” “He’s a broker.” And I’m like, “Really?” I’m like, “That’s kind of the hustle?” And he’s like, “Yeah, bro, they’re making big money.”
My buddy Chris gets an interview for some brokerage firm. And I was like, “Bro, let me go with you.” So we both go. They start calling guys in for interviews, and it happened to be the firm’s top producer. And he hires me. And my buddy Chris doesn’t get the job.
Now I’m working on Wall Street, and it’s a very … barbaric society, and it’s kill or be killed. And I was determined to win. At all costs. The policy was pretty simple. Whatever kind of pills, whatever kind of booze, if you need cocaine to work harder, we’ll give you coke. It was just accepted. It was widely accepted. You know, it was never questioned. It was just gluttonous. Drink more, do more drugs. That excess, for me.
One of the first things that I learned, “Don’t we want to make these guys money?” It’s like, “No, we want them to lose.”
“If you make them money, they take their money and they go away.” He’s like, “But if you lose them money, they want to always try to win it back.”
And the thing about being a broker, you make money on the buy or the sell, either way. If you read about ‘pump and dump’ stocks, it’s a house stock, XYZ brokerage will underwrite the company, the brokers sell the crap out of it to their investors, which makes the price go up, and at that point, they dump it. Also, the spread on house stocks could sometimes be very large. $2, $3, $4, $5, and you’re selling 100,000 shares.
You’re making a considerable amount of money. Highly illegal. I never looked at legal and illegal. I looked at how much time could you do and how much time will you realistically do? I’m making $10-15,000 a month. Fly down to Miami, do a bunch of coke, eat big fancy meals, the $10,000 I made was gone in a weekend.
Then I call up my sister, I’m like, “Hey, can you help me, please?” She says, “You make more than me.” “What are you doing?” “Are you just wasting your life?”
There was Operation Wooden Nickel, where there was a big roundup. But I wasn’t going into the office every day. Guys from my office got taken.
I get a call from my boss saying, “Hey Mike, I got a call from the FBI.” “They’re looking for you.” There was a warrant out for me, so I had to surrender myself. They fingerprinted me, booked me, pictures, definitely scary.
End result was the authorities came back with, “Don’t ever go into the securities industry. Ever.” Big red flag next to my name. You know, the only thing I thought of was me. I would tell this sad, depressing story to my mother, that I knew would get to my sister, and I would let that stew, then I would, out of the blue, call my sister, “Hey, Dawn. How you doing?” “Just calling because I care.”
She says, “Bull—-.” Everything was just a lie. You know what it’s like to wake up 35 years later and realize everything you’ve done, every relationship you’ve had, was an absolute lie?
I leave Brooklyn in the middle of the night. I’m living in Florida, and I’m just miserable. I’m working a really terrible job, and I’m just driving back and forth to Miami to buy heroin and just living that existence in a one room apartment. I truly had nothing.
So I call up my buddy and I’m like, “Dude, let’s go to the Pacific Northwest.” And he’s like, “Okay.” I wanted to go to a place where everybody is absolutely miserable. The weather was miserable. I knew there was heroin here, and I wanted to die. I was determined, and I was set out to die. I call my sister, basically to say goodbye, and … my sister doesn’t answer the phone. It’s my niece.
She’s so happy. She’s like, “Uncle Michael!” “Uncle Michael! Uncle Michael!” She was four. The same age I was when I had my little stool, and I would cook with my mom. Somebody that doesn’t judge me. Somebody that just loves me for being me. A person, you know, that cooks cheesecake with her, and holds her up to the counter so she could take samples and lick the batter from the bowl. And I couldn’t do it. I thought of, like, how selfish…
What happens next was a life changer. I go to detox a lot, but they kick me out … I go back … I was actually at The Salvation Army twice. The first time I went, I went through the program and did it my way. It was just — it was a mess. Until I got kicked out. I show up after a year-long relapse, and yet again, The Salvation Army opens their doors for me.
My buddy Darnell, he said, “What are you going to do different this time?” I said, “Well, you know, I’m gonna pray.” He’s like, “Nah.” “I’m gonna get a sponsor.” “Meh. No.” I’m like, “Darnell. I don’t know! What am I going to do different?” He says, “You’re going to do everything different.”
And I got a very valuable lesson, instead of being a facade, being authentic. I learned a lot about God, and I found a lot of inspiration. It opened up my eyes to a whole different world. I begged them, “Put me in the kitchen.” Like, “No one ever wants to be in the kitchen.” I’m like, “I would love to be in the kitchen!”
My job today, I’m both Chef and GM. We have the Wok Seattle. You have to try the char siu. There’s also Matt’s Fish Basket, unique dishes like the seafood poutine. And then we have the Bubble Tea Shop, all located in the Seattle Center, right underneath the Space Needle. I found something that I really enjoy, and that’s always working with the newcomer.
Over the years, I’ve employed a lot of guys from The Salvation Army, from the ARC and the ARP. When I was talking about sincerity earlier, psychology of sales and tactics, I get to use those abilities that were God-given, for positive, to help a guy to find that spark that he didn’t know. God has been the guiding force in everything I’ve done.
Today, life is incredibly different. I have real friends, and real people in my life. People are genuinely happy to see me. People talk about me to their families, man! That’s awesome!
God doesn’t make junk. He doesn’t make things that are unusable. Somebody gave me a shot, when I didn’t think I was worth it. I’m grateful for that, and I will always give somebody a shot.
- See more videos like this in our video feed.
- Are you a Do Gooder, someone who cares about bringing goodness into the life of your family and community? Subscribe to The Do Gooders Podcast to be inspired by those doing good and find tangible tips for simple actions you can take today.
- Did you know The Salvation Army served more than 23 million Americans last year fighting hunger, homelessness, substance abuse and more—all in a fight for good? Where can you help? Take our quiz to find your cause and learn how you can join in today.