Restaurateur Dennis Max, who launched five restaurants during the past three years, quietly has withdrawn from three of them, two of which have closed.
Fans of the iconic Max’s Grille in Boca Raton’s Mizner Park know Max periodically opens restaurants, then sometimes closes or exits them, and re-emerges with something new. Some of his eateries have been hits, others misses, but through the years, Max has remained an enduring deal-maker with a loyal customer following throughout South Florida.
Max already is plotting new restaurants, including a concept dubbed Max’s Fresh, even as his involvement in the recently opened eateries has dwindled.
Since 2011, Max opened Max’s Harvest in Delray Beach, The Mexican and Assaggio del Forno in Boca Raton, Frank & Dino’s in Deerfield Beach, and most recently, Burt & Max’s in suburban Delray Beach.
Of these eateries, Max’s Harvest, which opened in June 2011, has been the hit. The new American cuisine restaurant, serving fresh food prepared with locally grown ingredients, has won top reviews.
But his other ventures have had their stumbles. Assaggio del Forno, for instance, in the Regency Court shopping center in Boca Raton, was a small-plates Italian concept in an area that preferred value and size in its Italian cuisine.
“It wasn’t a good fit. We overshot” the market, Max said. He got out, and the eatery was sold and became Damiano’s. The restaurant recently closed.
The Mexican, at Royal Palm Place, was another miss for Max. Although it opened in December 2012, Max said he was out by January, following differences with investor Mitchell Kaminsky, formerly owner of The Bridge Hotel in Boca Raton and chairman of Gem Pawnbrokers, a New York City-based pawn brokerage with more than 25 branch offices.
The funky-looking Mexican restaurant, complete with a bus inside the space, cost $800,000 to build out but received mixed reviews from diners.
Manager Cary Boudreau said the eatery closed about a week ago. The ownership group no longer includes Kaminksy, who acknowledged in an interview that he sold out “to a bigger group.”
That group is Gainesville-based 101 Cantina Group, which will rename the restaurant Mexican 101 Cantina and cater to a younger clientele, Boudreau said. At presstime, plans were to reopen this weekend, with lower prices and a vibe geared toward the crowd attending nearby Florida Atlantic University and Lynn University, Boudreau said.
Boudreau said a recent eviction action by landlord James Batmasian will be resolved. The Mexican also was recently the subject of a lawsuit by a food vendor, according to Palm Beach County Circuit Court records.
As for Deerfield Beach’s Frank & Dino’s, the restaurant remains open, but Max isn’t involved there anymore, either. The restaurant now is being led by investor and Tampa car dealer John Williams, who used to be an investor in Max’s Harvest until he was bought out by Max.
The newest of the Max eateries is Burt & Max’s, which opened in February.
That restaurant, which is operated by longtime partner Burt Rapoport, quickly has found favor at its location in the Delray Marketplace, a new shopping center west of Delray Beach. Residents living in isolated but wealthy enclaves in the western part of the county have flocked to this retail center. Although restaurant sales typically slow during the warmer months, so far the drop-off has been minimal at Burt & Max’s.
‘It’s standing room only” at the eatery, Max said. “It’s doing way beyond our expectations.”
Max admits that finding the right partners for restaurants is no easy feat. Investors like to see their money back immediately, and sometimes it takes awhile for a new concept to catch on, Max said. “Investors can get very antsy,” he said.
Either way, Max is nonplussed about the ups and downs of his recent ventures. He has new ideas, and investors, up his sleeve.
Coming soon: A joint venture between Max and Prime Cigar, a popular gathering spot for dealmakers in Boca Raton.
Plans are to open a still-unnamed eatery, courtyard and cigar bar on east Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale. Max said he has investors in that deal who own a chain of gourmet grocery stores in New York and understand the food business.
In addition, Max is working to create Max’s Fresh, a fast-casual eatery with premium ingredients. Max says he’s targeting the Brickell Avenue corridor in Miami-Dade County because he needs an area that is busy both during the daytime and at night.
“It’s intended to be something we build into a chain,” Max said. “You walk through the line and your food is assembled.” Plans are to include free-range chicken, no-hormone beef, salads and sandwiches. Max dubbed Max’s Fresh the “little brother” to Max’s Harvest.
Finally, Max said he’s looking to expand Max’s Harvest elsewhere in the country and is considering sites in North Carolina, South Beach in Miami-Dade County or the west coast of Florida.
Meanwhile, the popular Rocco’s Tacos & Tequila Bar is taking its brand of Mexican cuisine and party vibe all the way up to the Big Apple.
The West Palm Beach-based eatery, which started on Clematis Street five years ago, will open its first restaurant outside of Florida in Brooklyn, N.Y. The space was formerly occupied by Morton’s steak house, at the Marriott New York at the Brooklyn Bridge.
Co-owners Rocco Mangelsaid the move is a homecoming, of sorts. Mangel is from nearby Long Island, where he still has family. He said he’s eager to get to know Brooklyn “and make sure we meet everybody’s expectations.”
The Rocco’s Tacos in Brooklyn is the regional chain’s biggest eatery, at 14,500 square feet. There is about 6,000 square feet on the ground level, and another 8,000 square feet at basement level for banquets and private parties.
The restaurant, located at 339 Adams Street, is expected to open in late winter or early spring of 2014. Work will be underway to transform the dark, wood-paneled space into a lively atmosphere featuring accessories from Mexico.
Although Clematis Street eateries have met with mixed success in recent years, Rocco’s Tacos has maintained its edge by catering to customers wanting a blend of entertainment and food, with a variety of prices from which to choose.
“We’re not high end. We’re not low end. We’re Rocco’s Tacos,” Mangel said.
Mangel, together with the Big Time Restaurant Group, also operates Rocco’s Tacos in Palm Beach Gardens, Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale and Orlando.
Alexandra Clough writes about the economy, real estate and the law.