When chef Max Hardy returned to Detroit in 2017 after working as a private chef to athletes and celebrities, he intended to make his mark in the culinary scene with not one, but three new restaurants. While it’s taken far longer and been more challenging than he initially anticipated, Hardy now has two new projects in the works in addition to Caribbean restaurant Coop inside Detroit Shipping Company.
The more casual of the two projects, What’s Crackin’, is set to arrive this fall along the Avenue of Fashion near Seven Mile, initially in pop-up form with an official opening in 2021. Hardy is collaborating on the project with Ron Bartell, a former Detroit Lion, property investor, and owner of Kuzzo’s Chicken & Waffles. Together, they’re developing a neighborhood takeout restaurant devoted to boiled, fried, and grilled seafood. Hardy says the menu will particularly focus on customizable seafood boils. Customers will be able to choose the mix of seafood they want in their bag and select a flavor of sauce. Hardy’s own line of spices, Chef Max Signature Spice Blends, will also be available. The restaurant will have limited seating with the possibility of patio service next summer.
The second project on Hardy’s plate is the long-awaited Honey, an Afro-Caribbean restaurant he’s been teasing since 2017. Hardy has since secured a lease in downtown’s Harmonie Park area, an area that’s historically been home to many Black-owned Detroit properties and businesses. Due to the significant cost of the project — more than a million dollars — and the financial and logistical circumstances of the pandemic, Honey is currently on hold. The chef estimates that at the earliest it could open next spring, depending on the viability of a novel coronavirus vaccine.
When it opens, Honey will feature a basement-level, speakeasy-style lounge with an 85-seat dining room and open kitchen on the main level. Two chefs tables will also be set up in the dining room as well as an area for producing podcasts. The restaurant’s mezzanine will have room for private dining and catering. The chef anticipates a menu featuring options like jollof rice, whole roasted jerk branzino, and curries. Hardy is in the process of renovating the space and meeting with decorators so that the restaurant is ready when dining out becomes a little more hospitable again.
For now, Hardy is still managing the day-to-day unpredictability of operating the Coop food stall during planet Earth’s socially distanced summer. Hardy says that revenue at the restaurant is down by around 40 to 50 percent from previous years. At the same time, he’s dealing with increased costs from personal protective equipment, meat, and takeout containers. “We’ve been trying to work through that and trying to figure out how do we continue trying to gain more business,” he says. “It’s been a challenge.”
For now, Detroit Shipping Company is offering expanded outdoor seating and a beach-like experience to help provide more space for eating out in the open air. He says business seems to be slowly gaining steam again. The restaurant is currently offering a mix of dine-in seating as well as carryout and delivery.
Come fall and winter, Hardy is unsure how many businesses will continue to stay open. “I don’t see a lot of restaurants, in particular us, making it with [50 percent] capacity, especially in the winter time,” Hardy says. He points out that the government has left behind many independent restaurant owners during this crisis. “It’s going to be a little tough to get through the winter without that support.” So far, his business has been unable to secure any grants or loans offered to small businesses.
“I can’t see my way through it yet, but we’ll keep on pushing.”
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