Unless you've been living under a rock for the past decade, you've likely heard of Zack Bruell and his successful restaurant empire, which now includes L'Albatros, Parallax, Chinato, Table 45 and Cowell & Hubbard. But Bruell understands that he is hardly a one-man show. Enter Andy Dombrowski, corporate chef of Bruell's ever-expanding restaurant group. A native Clevelander, Dombrowski is Bruell's secret weapon in the kitchen.
At 12, Dombrowski would cook spaghetti and stir-fry for his family, inspired by cooking shows on TV. In high school, Dombrowski got his first taste of the hospitality biz by working at a local McDonald's. He later entered a vocational cooking program at Normandy High School, where a teacher noticed his passion and work ethic and recommended him for a summer job at Watermark Restaurant in the Flats. Working under executive chef Michele Gaw, Dombrowski started as a prep cook making more than 300 pierogies a day. "Andy was energetic, enthusiastic and a great addition to the team," recalls Gaw. "I knew he would be a great cook."
Dombrowski continued working nights at the Watermark, absorbing everything he could in the kitchen. After graduation, he enrolled in the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute. Halfway through his culinary education, the Watermark came calling with a sous chef position, but after only three months on the job, the Watermark abruptly closed. That was 2002, around the time of the birth of Dombrowski's first daughter, Isabella.
Becoming a father ignited a new fire under Dombrowki; he bounced between hotels and clubs before landing the sous chef gig at Delmonico's, Hospitality Restaurants' new steakhouse in Independence. Just three weeks in, the executive chef resigned and Dombrowsi threw his hat into the ring and landed the job.
The top chef post at Delmonico's allowed Dombrowski to showcase his operational skills, while expanding his front-of-the-house knowledge. After a good five-year run, fate called — or more accurately, Bruell called. "I answered the phone and a voice said, 'Andy, this is Zack Bruell. I would like to meet with you.'"
The chef-owner of Parallax in Tremont wanted Dombrowski to head the kitchen at his new French-inspired bistro, L'Albatros Brassiere, which was going to open in University Circle. "He was my counter ego; he understands how I think," says Bruell. "I knew it could be rather scary and twisted." Bruell knew that he had made a great hire. "As a person, Andy has a great sense of humor. We don't take ourselves very seriously. We try to put out what we consider great food and have a good time doing it."
Working alongside Bruell has taught Dombrowski the craft of rustic food while respecting classic French technique. As L'Albatros gained critical success, Dombrowski felt for the first time that his soul was imprinted on a menu.
Bruell then approached Dombrowski about Chinato, and before he knew it the Polish chef was cooking Italian. That restaurant opened on E. 4th Street in early 2010, and thanks to a large floor plan and party room, Dombrowski was responsible for a volume rivaled only by his days at the Watermark.
Bruell knows he has somebody special on his team. "Andy is probably the best executor of fine dining in the city," explains Bruell. "Not many people know him because he really has very little ego."
The role of corporate chef came just in time for the latest addition to the Bruell portfolio, Cowell & Hubbard, the third restaurant Dombrowski would open for the group. An unabashed success for the PlayhouseSquare neighborhood and the region as a whole, Cowell was just one boon to the rising-star chef: Two weeks before the eatery opened, his second daughter, Phoebe, was born.
Boasting a balance of personal and professional success, this humble chef is just getting started. And with a mentor like Zack Bruell, there's no telling how high he'll rise.