By Carol Masshardt
An artist from Sioux City, Iowa, Gabriel (Gabe) Branch, is also a serious and experienced cook and the new Chef at Gray’s Hall on East Broadway. His creativity and thoughtfulness seem a particularly good match for this popular and mature small plate and wine bar, and it all started when he was eleven years old.
“My friend’s dad was a member of the Elks, and they needed help, so I started busing. From there I worked at a pizza place for seven years, and then in Iowa City, I was a dishwasher, then started cooking, and was a line cook at a dinner. I also studied painting, photography, sculpture, and still like art, but I took this route in a sort of unplanned way,” he said.
Gabe Branch does like the energy of customers, and waiters, and the mix of “everyone being happy and enjoying themselves when it all goes right,” but he has a deeper driving philosophy summarized this way. “I like providing something inherently for the benefit of someone else, and that also provides benefit for me,” he explained. More than a job, the satisfaction of people with the food and atmosphere is important to him.
“This location “Grays Hall” was a meeting hall in 1880,” he said. “It was a place people came to talk and have a sense of community, and we hope that is what this is, too. It appeals to me that the name is the same.”
Coming to the Boston area in 2019 “for a relationship that didn’t work out as hoped” he stayed and after progressively more pivotal positions in Cambridge restaurants, found the opportunity at this unique restaurant.
“I think South Boston is an interesting place. There is such history and then also a lot of new people in tech and finance. We want everyone to be comfortable and have a great cheeseburger, but people are open to trying to new things, too. You can be creative and keep good quality,” he said. Along with manager, Mira Stella, and a small staff, the opportunity for camaraderie and inspiration appeals to this chef.
“I’ve been so lucky,” he said, “to work with really good people who care about what they do. The whole link is being creative and producing something people like.”
Gabe Branch is soft-spoken, has a quiet and kind sense of humor, and a strength of perspective with his chosen work. He attributes the value of hard work to his parents as they supported a family of five children in which he is the youngest.
It isn’t all easy as anyone who knows the restaurant business at any level realizes. “The hours are hard, and COVID was tough, and you are married to the job,” he said, and that is simply a statement of fact in his view.
“For me, this is about challenge and reward. It is satisfying when you take a concept to a reality. It is either for you or not. There is a feeling you get when things are going right-and it is a hum with the cooks, waiters, customers, the whole operation comes together, and it is a good thing!” he said.
When not working, Gabe may be at the MFA or Gardner Museum or maybe a comedy club, but never far from thinking about his new work home at Gray’s Hall.
“I would love this to a place when you see the same people, and everyone is comfortable, relaxed and enjoying the food, “he said. On a recent night, there was outdoor dining that appeared just that with multi-generational families, couples, and friends in an atmosphere that seemed both lively and quieter than some. Gabriel Branch seemed relaxed and motivated to make many great nights when the satisfaction of the work he loves outweighs the sacrifice.