Restaurant Reopening Diaries: Zack Bruell of L’Albatros, Parallax, and Alley Cat Oyster Bar

A flurry of social media shots depicted popular Cleveland restaurants with packed patios this weekend—prompting heated debates about the importance of social distancing and a restaurant’s role in enforcing it.

When three of Zack Bruell’s restaurants reopen this Friday, May 22, Bruell plans to lead by example in paving a safe way forward. “Some restaurants are conducting business as usual, but operating like that is irresponsible,” says Bruell. “We have a responsibility to society in general, and this cannot be done in an irresponsible fashion. If it is, it will affect everyone.”

So what will reopening look like at L’Albatros, Parallax, and Alley Cat Oyster Bar? According to Bruell, both staff and customers will be required to wear masks, and staff members will have their temperature taken upon arrival. Tables will be appropriately spaced for social distancing, and customers will be encouraged to access the menu via their smartphones. Places will be set after customers sit down at the table, and bread will be delivered in a small bag. “Every movement we make at the table has to be analyzed,” says Bruell. “It can make your head spin…I haven’t slept in three weeks.”

Alley Cat Oyster Bar is one of three Zack Bruell restaurants that will reopen this Friday, May 22.

It’s all part of a complete reimagining of the service — from the time of reservation to the time the patron exits the restaurant. Bruell has worked closely with his son Julian, the restaurant group’s director of service, to completely revamp the 45-page service manual that acts as a bible of sorts for the group’s seven restaurants.

“As a chef/restaurateur, I know the most important part of the experience is the service side, and this impacts how we do things at the table,” says Bruell. “It’s our challenge to solve that problem and make it work.”

But lest anyone think the element of fine dining will be lost, Bruell is quick to point out that “we plan to do things with a sense of panache, where it’s a not sterile environment. We want to do it with style so that people feel welcome.”

Along with retraining his staff on best protocols and practices, Bruell is partnering with the Cleveland Clinic and James Merlino, M.D., to help develop a guide for all restaurants to follow in the wake of COVID-19. He is also doing complete retrainings with restaurant staff this week to make sure everyone is prepared come Friday.

“It’s almost like we’re going through an opening again,” says Bruell. “Over the last 47 years, I’ve succeeded because I’m neurotic about execution. Now we plan to make the necessary compromises without losing the dining room experience.”

Jen Jones Donatelli

Read the other entries in our Restaurant Reopening Diaries series:

Tammy Phillip of Wine Down & Sweets

Brandon Chrostowski of EDWINS

David Ina of Zaytoon Lebanese Kitchen