Dennis Max has maxed out at Max’s Grille, quietly withdrawing as an owner of the venerable Boca Raton restaurant, 27 years after he opened it.
It’s the end of an era for Max, whose creative, California-driven menu shaped the dining scene in South Florida. Max also launched the careers of dozens of chefs who have gone on to work at or own restaurants throughout the country.
Max’s Grille, in the Mizner Park shopping center downtown, will continue under the leadership of longtime partner Burt Rapoport and new majority owner BBX Capital Corp., a Fort Lauderdale-based holding company.
Max may be out of Max’s Grille but he isn’t hanging up his apron just yet. The 72-year-old restaurateur is plotting his next move in downtown Delray Beach, where he already operates Max’s Harvest. Plans are underway to open at least one additional eatery downtown. Max wouldn’t dish further details.
Max said his departure from Max’s Grille was made for two reasons: to settle a longstanding debt owed to his former lender and to give himself a chance to focus on something new.
The debt stemmed from loans Max and investors took a decade ago to expand Max’s Grille to locations at Downtown at The Gardens in Palm Beach Gardens and a center in Coral Gables. The restaurants fizzled, but the debt to BankAtlantic remained.
BankAtlantic later was sold to BB&T. Former BankAtlantic executives formed BBX, a holding company that acquired Hoffman’s Chocolates in Greenacres and more recently, It’s Sugar, a candy store chain.
BBX also acquired the BankAtlantic debt, Max said.
That debt has hung over Max for a decade, he said, but earlier this year, BBX took over Max’s position in Max’s Grille, freeing him and investors of their loan obligations. “I’m happy,” he said.
Max said he has a lot of “love and passion” for Max’s Grille, which he opened in 1991. The modern American bistro ushered in an era of wood-grilled food, fresh ingredients and creative recipes that helped launch numerous chefs’ careers. It also helped put the mixed-use Mizner Park on the map.
But with Max’s Grille now in its mid-20s, “it’s like a child,” Max said. “Max’s Grille has grown up. It’s self-sufficient. I think it needs a new voice.”
Max also said he’s ready for a fresh challenge himself. He’s set his sights on downtown Delray Beach, which is bustling with new investments and construction, including apartments, condominiums and hotels.
With Max out, the well-capitalized BBX is in. Rapoport, who will take over management, said talks already are underway about possibly renovating the space. A BBX official could not be reached for comment by press time.
As for Rapoport, he said he’s busier than ever. His Rapoport’s Restaurant Group recently brought back the 1990s-era Prezzo Italian restaurant to the new Park Place shopping center in Boca Raton. He also owns Burt & Max’s at the Delray Marketplace in suburban Delray Beach and Deck 84 in downtown Delray Beach.
But Rapoport is selling Henry’s, which he opened 17 years ago in suburban Delray Beach. Rapoport said Henry’s sale will allow him to focus his energies on Prezzo and Max’s Grille.
Although Max Grille’s decor may be updated, Rapoport said, “We have a real strong group of managers and chefs there, and I don’t see any changes in that respect.”
Jeff Sussman, a Boca Raton restaurant broker, helped Rapoport with the Max’s Grille deal and the Henry’s sale. In years past, Sussman said he handled other deals for both Max and Rapoport.
Sussman, of Sussman Restaurant Brokerage, called Max a “catalyst” for the flavors and cuisine that helped turn a once-sleepy South Florida dining scene into the fiercely competitive industry it is today.
Meanwhile, other changes are afoot at Mizner Park. Uncle Julio’s Mexican restaurant, which opened nearly a decade ago, quietly closed this month at the shopping center. Word is landlord GGP plans to bring a bowling alley to the space, a move in line with the trend by other shopping centers seeking more entertainment choices for their customers.
Mizner Park’s general manager Dana Romanelli Schearer declined to comment.
Tesla turns on the lights
Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines and open your wallets. Tesla will fire up its new showroom store Monday at The Gardens Mall in Palm Beach Gardens.
It’s the latest in a series of steps the mall is making to reshape its tenant mix to compete with online retailers and consumers who want a bit more dazzle when they step out to shop.
The newly enlarged Apple store opened in December, and mall leasing manager Al Ferris said the store, combined with robust consumer spending, have goosed the mall’s sales.
But the Tesla deal is a major coup, bringing one of the hottest tech brands to the suburban shopping center.
The maker of pricey electric cars has only one other Palm Beach County showroom, in the Town Center at Boca Raton. This meant buyers in northern Palm Beach County who wanted to ogle these futurist cars had to travel south.
No more. Now they need only stop by The Gardens Mall and the Tesla store, next to the Saks Fifth Avenue department store.
Like other shopping centers, The Gardens Mall also is changing up its tenant mix beyond traditional clothing retailers.
Arhaus, an upscale furniture store, has started construction on a mall store, which should be ready by the end of September, Ferris said. The furniture company is moving to the mall from the nearby Legacy Place shopping center. It’s part of the mall’s strategy to attract more home furnishings retailers, a shift also taking place at CityPlace in West Palm Beach.
Look for more restaurants, too. Ferris wouldn’t name names, but he said he’s working to bring other eateries to the center.