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Max Brenner Suckao
Max Brenner serves up chocolate to dazzle and amuse. The chocolate beverages and fun desserts at his cafés are tops. In the Suckao, shown above, guests receive solid chocolate to melt and sip from the “pouch.”

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

KAREN HOCHMAN is the Editorial Director of THE NIBBLE.


 

December 2006
Updated July 2008

Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Chocolate

Max Brenner, Chocolate By The Bald Man

Part I, Overview: Max Brenner Chocolate Culture Fills A Gap On The American Foodscape

 

CAPSULE REPORT: Israeli chocolate company Max Brenner hopes to spread Max Brenner Chocolate Culture, provided in his cafés, from coast to coast. We hope he succeeds: his chocolate café confections are more fun than a barrel of chocolate monkeys. The packaged chocolates are fun too—more fun chocolate than serious chocolate, although the bonbons offer some lick-smacking delight for the serious chocolate-consumer. The chocolate is imported from Israel, and is certified kosher. This is Part I of a three-part review. Click on the black links below to read the other parts.

Max Brenner, Chocolate by the Bald Man, is an Israeli version of the Cheesecake Factory, with the temptation of choice being chocolate confections instead of cheesecake. Max Brenner is a concept: the idea that a café and chocolate shop that serves lush desserts, sumptuous chocolate beverages and light fare, that is affordable by students (the average check is $13.00), will be a hit. If the company is successful—and we sure hope it will be—Americans from coast to coast will be able to walk into this adult Willy Wonka restaurant-café and partake of a light meal with a chocolate chaser. On your way out, pick up a fun gift, or a chocolate bar for yourself. For now, there are two pilot cafés, both in the same area of New York City that is full of students and near multiplex cinemas—high traffic areas of target consumers.

Max Brenner himself is a bit of concept. His real name is Oded Brenner and he is the company co-founder, along with Max Fichtman, of Handmade Chocolate by Max Brenner, established 10 years ago in a town outside of Tel Aviv. Brenner bought out his partner and embraced the Chocolate by the Bald Man concept, adopting the nickname Max. He subsequently sold the business to Strauss-Elite, the Israeli counterpart to Kraft Foods. Just as Campbell’s Soup owns Godiva Chocolatier, now Max Brenner is an international chain with 21 stores worldwide, including five in Israel, 12 in Australia, two in Asia and two in New York City. The company plans to open 300 branches in the U.S. over the next ten years.

Max is much more attractive than the “Mr. Clean” image on the logo—a with-it, thirtysomething guy. He studied as a pastry chef in Paris and later as a chocolatier, but his interests are not highbrow (in fact, he says that his favorite chocolate is a milk chocolate bar with almonds). He had no vision to be Robert Linxe and create La Maison du Chocolate II. He is a marketer, and he does it very well: he has created a gleeful version of Godiva II, with packaging that is both beautiful and amusing, and new concepts in chocolate gifting. While most in the prestige end of the chocolate industry have overlooked the fact that chocolate is first and foremost a fun food, Max knows how to attract attention by making people happy—even adults can experience wide-eyed joy. Large cafés attached to the chocolate shops mean that the chocolates are the wagging tail of the dog. It’s a great business strategy: While people only buy fine chocolates occasionally, they can stop at a café much more frequently. If you cross The Cheesecake Factory with Starbucks Culture, you get...Max Brenner Chocolate Culture.

Walk in to Max Brenner’s and there are references to Willy Wonka Max Brenner Logostenciled on the walls, though the decor is a bit more Spanish—wrought iron railings, yellow and cream walls and tile floors. It’s appropriately evocative of Spanish Colonial cacao industry that brought chocolate to Europeans following the conquest of the Aztec Empire by Hernan Cortès—although he would not have recognized the Wonka-esque yellow “chocolate conduit” ceiling pipes or tubes of white and brown marbles (“crunchy bits” and “crunchy waffle balls” in milk chocolate praline, $1.95 per ounce). There is a display of tricked out machines mixing milk and white chocolate, flanked by baskets of cacao beans, cinnamon and star anise that are meant to show chocolate production. But there’s no signage that explains what the components are (even we, who are pretty familiar with the machinery of chocolate production, had to ask what the machines were doing), so they serve more as decor than education. We wish that the company would provide an ounce of education in addition to dazzling guests with fanfare. That being said, our favorite part of the environment is the omnipresent scent of chocolate, which is infused into the air via technology. It’s quite delightful: rather than make one’s mouth water, it has a happy and calming effect. Medical researchers note: Even when one isn’t eating chocolate to absorb theobromine into the bloodstream, there is some seratonin reuptake inhibitor affect achieved from inhaling a reproduced chocolate scent. And it’s calorie-free, too.

Continue To Part II: Chocolates & Hot Cocoa

Go To The Article Index Above

 

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