Jeffrey Lynd and his crew at Zax Restaurant & Bar on Barton Springs Road will go out in style, as fireworks over Lady Bird Lake on New Year’s Eve will trumpet not only the end of a year but also the final day for one of the area’s longest running restaurants.
The Zax owner will say goodbye to the restaurant he has shepherded through 16 years in an ever-evolving Austin, with the restaurant at 312 Barton Springs Road serving its final meal as part of a New Year’s Eve celebration.
Lynd, who is responding well to immunotherapy treatment following a winter 2018 diagnosis of renal cancer, says the previous year has been one of reflection, and he realized now was the right time to step away from the restaurant he and former partner Mike Baldwin opened at Barton Springs Road and Riverside Drive in 2003.
The Alice native cites his frequent visits to Houston for treatments at M.D. Anderson and the difficulties posed by Austin traffic, road closures, inadequate public transportation and parking as the biggest factors in choosing to retire.
"If you’re not from here, you wouldn’t even know how to get into Zax," Lynd said of the construction morass just south of Lady Bird Lake, an area that includes the construction of the new 15-story office tower on the space that once served as Zax parking.
Zax, the kind of rapidly vanishing near-downtown Austin restaurant that serves approachable New American cuisine at affordable prices, was one of the first restaurants in the area to place a strong emphasis on craft beer and, while Lynd acknowledges he didn’t blaze any culinary trails at the comforting neighborhood restaurant, he says they tried to do things the right way.
"We sourced locally when we could. We wanted crab from the Gulf of Mexico and shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico," Lynd said. "Every single thing in Zax was a collaboration and was kind of always evolving, and I think that has something to do with our success."
While the smart beer wall and dependable food were always big draws for Zax, the avuncular Lynd and his staff, which includes his daughter, Ari, and previously included his son and restaurant namesake, Zach, are what gave the restaurant its warmth and sense of community.
Lynd, who worked in the oil and gas business for three decades after starting his hospitality career in San Francisco, credits a strong cast of regulars, which included staff from the City of Austin, Texas Department of Transportation and the Austin American-Statesman, as well as Long Center patrons, for the success of his business.
"I think I will miss all the people I met," Lynd says citing both regular Joes and famous folks like Gary P. Nunn, who recently stopped in for a pre-gig meal. "It’s been really humbling — the people who share their love and memories about Zax. And that’s what is special to me about it. A lot of the things you think didn’t mean a lot, it really kinda means a lot to a lot of people. It’s just really a big bubble of love that you feel."
Endeavor Real Estate Group this summer purchased the one-third-acre property at Barton Springs Road and West Riverside Drive from seller Liza Mossler, and while Lynd said the Austin-based company treated him well and were amenable to letting him operate in an interim period, with some honest reflection and the wisdom of his wife, Chris, he decided now was a good time to call it a wrap.
"My wife said, ‘You’ve had a great run. It’s a perfect time to end it. You couldn’t have asked for a better thing,’" Lynd said. "I’m 67 years old; I’m gonna be 68 in February. So, I need to stop sometime and enjoy the life I’ve spent a lot of time saving up for."