Veteran restaurateur Dennis Max has a lot to celebrate.
The Boca Raton businessman recently married Nita Summers—whom he met 18 years ago at a friend’s birthday party—during an elegant ceremony in Middleburg, Virginia, an equestrian town.
And his modern American bistro-style Max’s Grille, the only original restaurant in Mizner Park, is commemorating its 25th anniversary with interior renovations and innovative new menu items.
The restaurant’s longevity is an anomaly in South Florida, renowned for its persnickety patrons. “I am very proud,” says Max, 71, a California transplant and partner/co-founder of The Max Group with Fred Stampone.
In addition to the 300-seat Max’s Grille, the group owns Max’s Harvest and serves as restaurant consultant to Burger Bar in Palm Beach Gardens. Max is also a partner in Burt & Max’s in Delray Beach, along with restaurateur Burt Rapoport, with whom he first worked back in the day. (Rapoport is also a partner in Max’s Grille.)
Max introduced South Floridians to California-style cuisine, including the now-ubiquitous chopped salad, in 1984. Before entering the restaurant business, Max worked as a Wall Street stockbroker, but he felt unfulfilled.
“I wanted to do something that positively affected people,” he says. “I found my calling. And this restaurant is the embodiment of the dream I had as a younger man.”
He attributes the success of Max’s Grille to a simple, tried-and-true formula: Provide a great location (check), impressive architecture (check), first-rate food (check) and a top-notch staff (check).
Max was ahead of his time when he opened the Mizner Park eatery. Back in the day, Boca Raton wasn’t nearly as developed—Town Center had no Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom or Macy’s, and many west Boca neighborhoods and east Boca condos had yet to be built. Today, Mizner Park is flush with luxury stores and downtown commerce and condos.
“Opening there was a good decision,” says Max, who was offered his choice of spots by developer Tom Crocker. The restaurant is located next to the center’s valet parking—for which Max is responsible. “They didn’t provide valet at the time, but we insisted.”
Max designed the restaurant for maximum appeal: “We can give everyone from every walk of life something they can enjoy.” The eatery recently closed for 10 days for comprehensive renovations that included repainted ceiling soffits, recovered banquettes, upgraded patio furnishings, a refreshed outdoor bar and a new kitchen. There are plans for new lighting and chairs, and an indoor bar redesign to restore the bar overhang to its original look.
He revealed the restaurant’s revamp during an anniversary party where present and former staffers topped the invite list. “We couldn’t do what we do without good people,” Max says. “We wanted to hug them and thank them.”
The restaurant isn’t resting on its laurels: Max will continue to roll out new menu items, such as the Huevos Toastadas for brunch; meatloaf sandwich for lunch; heritage pork chop for dinner and the Max’s Mojito signature cocktail. Other anniversary promotions include $25 gift certificates for every $100 spent. Meanwhile, some things about the restaurant remain exactly the same—which is a good thing when it comes to the famed berry crème brûlée pie.
Max takes nothing for granted. “The restaurant industry is fragile,” he says. “You’re only as good as your last meal.”
Where: 404 Plaza Real in Mizner Park, Boca Raton
Hours: Monday – Thursday, 11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Friday, 11:30 a.m. – 11 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. – 11 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Contact: maxsgrille.com; 561.368.0080