Bryce Zeagler, Eller MIS and Operations Management ’99
Co-Owner, The Parish
By Liz Warren-Pederson
Eight months after graduating from the University of Arizona at just 23 years old, Bryce Zeagler decided to buy out a neighborhood bar on Grant Road in Tucson and turn it into a restaurant offering the authentic Cajun-style food he grew up eating in Louisiana.
“I looked through the existing financials, wrote a business plan, and started the wheels turning,” he said. “It looked like a doable situation.” But when the untested new grad began seeking a loan, he found banks were reluctant to give him a chance. “I happened to have filled out a bunch of credit card applications when I was in school,” he said, “So I used the cards to cover expenses such as product and advertising, and used the checks to buy the business.”
It was a gamble that paid off: “I was lucky enough to pay that off in 14 months,” he said.
He sold the restaurant, The French Quarter, in 2007 in order to focus on another business he started — an accounting firm that caters to small businesses. While he’s still running the company, he and two partners joined forces to open a new gastropub, The Parish, in northwest Tucson in late 2011.
“There’s something special about the restaurant industry,” Zeagler said. But growing up, he had very different career aspirations. “I was lucky enough to have a planetarium at the high school I attended,” he said. “My teacher was really great, and I wanted a career like his.” Zeagler’s teacher advised him to earn a degree in astronomy, not teaching, and the UA’s strong reputation brought him to Tucson. “I knew it was the place for me before I even got off the plane,” he said.
The astronomy program didn’t turn out to be a good fit, but he found his way to MIS and operations management, an educational experience he said still resonates in his professional life. “One of the main things is that you have to work in groups, solving problems as a team. And that’s the number one skill you have to have to succeed: to think quick and solve problems in unconventional ways, together — not out of books.”
While he was in school, Zeagler took a job in sales with Coca-Cola Bottling Company, where he got his feet wet in the restaurant industry and connected with the owners of the bar he bought and turned into The French Quarter. “The first thing I missed was Cajun cooking and home food,” he said. “Outside of Louisiana, everything falls short of authentic, so that was where I saw my niche.”
Zeagler grew up in a family of foodies, watching his grandmother cook. That home cooking inspired his hands-on approach. “Cajun food is very labor-intensive,” he said. While he personally made the jambalaya and other signature dishes at The French Quarter, his new enterprise is all about teamwork.
Collaborating with partners Steve Dunn and Travis Peters — formerly general manager and executive chef, respectively, of the Hotel Congress and Cup Café in Tucson, is what Zeagler credits for allowing him to get back into the restaurant industry while keeping his accounting enterprise going steady.
“Our goal is to create a sense of community and a gathering place through our cuisine and atmosphere,” he said.