CLEVELAND, Ohio - A pivotal moment in Julian Bruell's life came when he was 14.
Time to go to work, father Zack told him. The affable teen shrugged and said, 'OK.'
After mom dropped him off at Parallax, he began work, polishing glasses. A couple of hours in, he told his father: "I'm hungry."
Father looked at son, incredulously.
"Eat?" he said. "You want to eat?"
He dragged him to the line chefs and said: "Tell them what you just told me."
He did, they laughed, and the son learned.
That might have been the moment that ignited a passion, a career calling, for Julian Bruell. The younger Bruell, who spent several years managing New York restaurants, has returned to his hometown to join the Zack Bruell Restaurant Group as director of service. He is 27.
Director of service, Zack Bruell Restaurant Group
High school: Shaker Heights High School, graduated 2008, captain of the hockey team.
College: Cornell University, School of Hotel Administration, graduated 2012. Worked at a winery in Italy.
Tribeca Grill: Spent two years, managed the restaurant - "very old-school, white tablecloths, big tables." Involved with liquor- and beer-decision-making. Created the cocktail program and put in the draft system.
Jean-Georges: Spent two years at the three-star Michelin restaurant working as a service manager before evolving into acting general manager. "It taught me restraint, it taught me to listen. You can't be brash, you have to be humble. You're not always right. ... It taught me teamwork."
Sauvage: Was the opening GM for the Brooklyn restaurant, "learned a lot about beverage. I did everything there. ... That's when I realized I could do it, that I believed in myself, you have that moment."
Personal: Lives in Tremont. Enjoys golf ("like my father"), big hockey fan, time with friends, hiking, going out to eat, traveling ("it opened my eyes to a different type of lifestyle"), museums.
The experience and the hours in a competitive industry caught up but did not overtake Julian Bruell. As Zack Bruell gets ready to open a brewery-brewpub in the Flats, the son is by his side.
Upon deciding whether to come back to Cleveland, he thought about his past jobs at famed New York restaurants, of what he learned, of rolling up his sleeves. Of long hours winning out over friendships. And he came to a conclusion.
"What am I doing?" he thought. "If I'm going to do this, I'm going to do this for someone I believe in, where you have your heart and soul in it.
"I was ready to come back."
Coming home to Cleveland
What's motivating the younger Bruell to join his father, to work six days a week and bounce between Chinato to Cowell & Hubbard to Parallax and all over is remembering one simple thing: Dining is a communal, important moment in our lives.
"That's why I love this," he said. "It's a gathering of people. You sit down with your family; that's your time together, what you remember the most. That's why Neyine dining has become so big in a simple manner. It's fun to have a personal impact on people every day. I'm not saying we are changing the world, but it's ... a personal connection."
His route has been a series of instrumental goals all founded on hard work. He fell in love "with the energy" of a restaurant, its dizzying pace and constant sizzle. He wound up training people while he was a junior in high school, and that's when he realized this might make a career for him.
From Shaker High School he went to Cornell University and its famed hotel administration school.
He remembers dad saying " 'Cornell - are you sure about that? You can do whatever you want.' I think he was proud I got in."
"The fact that I worked in a restaurant was huge on my resume," he said. "A phenomenal experience. I am seeing my education paying off in a practical way. Cornell was my bachelor's degree; I call my work in New York my master's."
"Your mind is always racing," he said. "You're always thinking 'What do you have to do to get to the next step?' "
Reaching that next step took busing tables - a lot of tables. And learning prep work in the kitchen when he came home from college. And now it means embracing being a jack of all trades, of knowing more than just the ingredients going into the skillet - understanding finances, staff management and labor costs.
New York's hustle, bustle
Julian Bruell spent five years in New York working for top restaurants. His resume is filled with positions at Tribeca Grill, Jean-Georges - a three-star Michelin restaurant - and Sauvage.
"There's really motivated people in New York," he said. "Everyone is really ambitious and driven. Some people have egos, but that's good - that's confidence. I learned to be confident first off. ... Sometimes you get this tunnel vision, where you're working so much. It taught me to learn and to fight."
But all that work pushed out the rest of his life - relationships, friends, interests.
"I didn't have a normal life," said Bruell, who was putting in 90-hour work weeks. But that drive is similar to his father's, whose Cleveland restaurants now tally in the double digits.
"I paid my dues," Julian said. "I tried to listen to people (say) 'you have to be patient, you can't have everything right away.' For me, patience is sometimes hard. I'm young and ambitious and want to do well. It's not about position; it's about obtaining as much knowledge as possible, being inspirational, and doing the right thing."
Working hard at your passion and keeping balance in your life can be a mixed blessing.
Friends told Bruell he didn't look happy. He was spending a lot of time at whichever restaurant he was working.
"I was getting to a point where it was really hard," he said. "You need to have time for the people you love. ... and to experience other things in life. I didn't hit the wall, and I'm lucky. I got saved, and my savior was my father."Luke Purcell, Julian Bruell and Zack Bruell inside Collision Bend Brewing Co. on the Flats East Bank in Cleveland.Marc Bona, cleveland.com
Dad's newest project will have son by his side. With Collision Bend Brewing Co. - the Flats brewery-brewpub expected to open April 15 - both Bruells will have their hands full. That restaurant alone will have 75 to 85 employees. They will be working with Luke Purcell, a well-regarded brewer.
"It's out of my comfort zone," Julian said. "I like to challenge myself. ... I knew I could always come back, but I didn't want to come back until I was 100 percent able to give something more."
The respect father has for his son's gained knowledge and work ethic is clear.
"I didn't want to do anything with him until I could learn something from him," the elder Bruell said late last year on a tour of Collision Bend's home in the flats. "This kid works."
For Julian, he's part of a family in more ways than one.
"I feel more ownership of what I do," he said. "I feel a sense of calm."Julian Bruell got his start at Parallax.Marc Bona, cleveland.com
Julian Bruell on his experience
* On his start: "Parallax, specifically, is special. I feel this place is responsible to get me where I've gone. It wouldn't have happened if my mom didn't drive me here in her car."
* About working in New York: "In New York, people have blinders on. 'I have to get where I'm going as fast as I can.' " Here, it's more along the lines of 'No worries, no rush, and I'm excited about the simple things in life.' "
* On taking pride in a staff: "It's not about me, it's not about my father. It's about the staff. ... Best compliment I will ever get is 'Your employees are really great; they do a phenomenal job.' "
* About working in competitive culinary markets: "It's about the guests. Cleveland has a lot of educated diners."
* On the dining experience: "It's a show. It's theater. People pay. It's constant training. We want you to get something more than a check."
* On employees at Bruell restaurants: "You know them like your family. I want people to succeed and move up. That's something that's very gratifying."
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