Parallax in Tremont is Now Closed, and May or May Not Reopen

Owner Zack Bruell blames staffing issues, former GM says Bruell neglected the restaurant

click to enlarge Chef-owner Zack Bruell in the kitchen at L'Albatros - Douglas Trattner
Douglas Trattner
Chef-owner Zack Bruell in the kitchen at L'Albatros

Last Friday, the head chef at Parallax walked out of the restaurant, an event which, combined with long-lingering issues, triggered a total collapse of the business.

The 18-year-old restaurant in Tremont has been closed ever since – and its future is anything but certain.

General Manager Zack Steffas says that the situation had been brewing for some time. He cites an insufficiently staffed kitchen and absentee owners as a large cause of the problem. It took two months for a basement water leak to get resolved, for example. Two weeks ago, the hoods in the kitchen stopped working so the staff pivoted to sushi-only service. A quick look online reveals declining reviews from longtime fans, who have been witnessing – and recounting – erratic behavior in the kitchen.

“We used to call it dinner and a show,” Steffas says of the kitchen crew’s unpredictable conduct.

Steffas, who is now out of a job, says that he alerted owners Zack and Julian Bruell to the volatile state of affairs at the restaurant. His opinion is that another operator might have had better contingency plans to deal with predictable obstacles like a departing chef.

“One man shouldn’t crumple an empire,” he says. “You as a business owner should have something in place for a situation like this.”

Zack Bruell opened Parallax in 2004. It was his first restaurant after leaving Ken Stewart Restaurants, where he worked for nearly a decade. Since opening that Tremont jewel, Bruell went on to build a culinary empire of nine restaurants and 500 employees. But Covid, restaurant closures and a partnership split have whittled all that down to two restaurants and about 100 staffers.

For his part, Bruell says that the employment nightmare that began in 2020 has not abated. To alleviate some of that pressure, he personally has been clocking 80-hour weeks in the kitchen at L'Albatros. He wishes that he had a deep bench of professionals that he could call on to replace the outgoing chef at Parallax, but that is not the case.

“A no-show has a ripple effect,” Bruell says. “A walk-out screws the entire business and his fellow employees.”

It’s no secret that Bruell is a perfectionist who does not suffer apathy or laziness. He’s an old-school chef that looks upon the hospitality industry as a true profession that demands excellence and is worthy of respect. He says it’s getting harder and harder to find people who still think that way.

“I have been operating at the highest levels and I will not compromise,” Bruell says.

One person who does fit Zack's mold is Julian Bruell, who left a job at a Michelin-starred restaurant in New York to join his father in the family business. As director of service, Bruell aims to offer guests a level of service commensurate with the best restaurants in the world. He says that has been a struggle of late.

“I think people don’t view this as a profession at this moment, partially because of the pandemic,” he says. “Some people like it a little bit easier and relaxed instead of a place that demands excellence, which is okay; everyone has a different view of what they want to achieve in life. But we are not going to change the way we do things. We want to provide the best food and service that we can every day. It’s pretty simple, I just want people who have a passion for this business.”

The situation at Parallax is more complicated than “simply” hiring a new chef. It’s clear from speaking with Zack that he wants a completely new arrangement, one that likely will require a chef-partner to step in and accept the lion’s share of responsibility.

“I can’t do it alone,” he says.

For now, the future of Parallax is in limbo, but Bruell isn’t ready to call it quits.

“That was my baby, that was my comeback restaurant,” he says. “I don’t want to have to walk away from it."

Julian is looking for the silver lining.

“I think it’s an opportunity to rebrand, an opportunity to maybe do something more modern, an opportunity to change and grow,” he says. “Eighteen years is a long time.”

For the former GM, however, labor issues and high standards don't explain everything.

"Everybody always wants to blame the staff," says Steffas, who was at Parallax for five months, "but the real situation comes down to Zack, who has been neglecting this restaurant for who knows how long."

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About The Author

Douglas Trattner

For 20 years, Douglas Trattner has worked as a full-time freelance writer, editor and author. His work on Michael Symon's "Carnivore," "5 in 5" and “Fix it With Food” have earned him three New York Times Best-Selling Author honors, while his longstanding role as Scene dining editor garnered the award of “Best...
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