Calling hours will be Friday for an Akron native and chef who brought modern Mexican food to his hometown.
Zachary "Zack" Hirt, 43, took his own life April 19 after a bout of depression, his family said.
Hirt, who friends recall as witty, generous and kind, was executive chef and co-owner of Nuevo Modern Mexican and Tequila Bar in downtown Akron, which closed earlier this year, and its ongoing sister restaurant in Cleveland.
"He was very nurturing, and yet not nurturing enough to himself," Hirt's father, Rick, said this week. Zack "would not really allow other people to be nurturing to him."
Zack Hirt, known for his creativity in the kitchen, began cooking as a child and went on to work in a variety of area restaurants before opening the Akron Nuevo in 2014 with his wife, Lisa, who also is co-owner of the Cleveland Nuevo. That restaurant opened in 2016.
The Akron Nuevo closed in February this year, with Hirt citing downtown construction as partially responsible for the shutdown. He also blamed high overhead.
Rick Hirt said his son had earlier this year expressed a "feeling of being beset on all sides ... [feeling] work pressure."
Zack Hirt grew up in Akron's Highland Square area and continued to live there as an adult, even after opening the Cleveland restaurant. He graduated from Firestone High School and continued to work in the local restaurant scene. He did not attend culinary school. Rather, he learned on the job, including cooking at the former Piatto in downtown Akron, where he was inspired by chef Roger Thomas, now executive chef at Viceroy L'Ermitage in Beverly Hills, Calif.
"He loved the opportunity to be creative in the kitchen ... to consider unusual combinations of flavors and textures," Rick Hirt said, noting that his son saw modern Mexican cooking as a way to add his own twist to classic dishes.
Rick Hirt recalled that his mother — Zack's grandmother — bought a set of international cookbooks for Zack when he was about 12 "and he started experimenting with them — even back then," creating unusual takes on traditional dishes.
He was 15 when he got his first food job, at the Mustard Seed grocery in Bath, working at the deli counter. The store's chef, who mentored Zack, left to work at the former Amber Pub in Akron's Wallhaven area and Zack followed him. Eventually, Zack became executive chef at the Amber Pub, leaving for another job before it closed in 2006.
After working at various local spots, he landed at Crave in downtown Akron, where he worked as saute chef for eight years before opening the Akron Nuevo.
Along with cooking, Hirt loved photography, reading, gardening and art. "Buy Art" says a bumper sticker on his car.
This week, friends and family members have been sharing sentiments and memories on social media.
"I met Zack Hirt when I was 15 years old, working at the Amber Pub. He would work long shifts and still stay and cook me dinner instead of clocking out and going home ... " Danielle Michalec posted on Zack's Facebook page. "He was the most kind and loving person I have ever met. He wouldn’t think twice about going out of his way for you."
Hirt is survived by his parents, Rick and Sue; twin brother, Erick; sister, Jennifer; and wife, Lisa.
There will be a viewing from 10:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Friday, followed by a memorial service at 2 p.m., at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Akron, 3300 Morewood Road, Fairlawn.
Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or firstname.lastname@example.org.