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Checking in with prolific chef Max Hardy

The ambitious chef recently reopened his Caribbean fusion restaurant Coop inside the Detroit Shipping Company and he's got 3 restaurants in the works

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

One Detroit chef has kept busy during the COVID-19 outbreak that has turned an already fragile restaurant industry into total chaos and uncertainty regarding safety, staffing, the supply chain and the future economy. 

A former personal chef with A-list clients, Maxcel Hardy has not only been working on opening three new eateries, but the nationally recognized cook has also been using his time and resources to feed those in need. 

Chef Max Hardy cooks at a Detroit News Dish & Design event.

He and a group of other area chefs — called Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen for Good — took donated food and turned it into meals for homeless and others with food insecurities. They did this for months during the shutdown until the food donations started to dry up and restaurants started to reopen dining rooms. Still, he's doing a few charitable services a week, including feeding the homeless Wednesdays near the Rosa Parks Transit Center.

"A lot of the organizations and homeless shelters are still shut down so we’ve been doing that as much as we can," he said. "It’s been pretty good."

He's also gotten his Caribbean concept Coop Detroit back up and running, operating inside the Detroit Shipping Company, a spacious bar and food hall in the Cass Corridor, which currently offers outdoor seating. As with many restaurants coming back to service, new protocols and restrictions are in place due to the coronavirus. 

He's streamlined the menu to include some of his highlights, including a spicy chicken sandwich, jerk ribs, jerk chicken wings with a guava barbecue sauce. 

"It started off really slow," he said. "It’s been kind of picking up a little bit. People are a little skeptical of coming out still. A lot of our clientele are suburban, it’s been a little challenging to get them out and about. Slowly but surely we’ve been picking up week over week."

Hardy said keeping momentum going has been a bit of a struggle and he's has had problems with staffing and getting supplies, adding that the cost of chicken wings has jumped significantly during the pandemic. There are also additional costs from repeated sanitizing, changing gloves frequently and buying carryout containers, which they use exclusively now instead of plating food on trays. 

Chefs Mike Ransom of Ima, left, Max Hardy of Coop and David Rudolph pause for a photo at the Horatio Williams Foundation kitchen where they've been preparing meals for Detroit's homeless population and others in need.

He's not deterred though, and is currently working toward opening three new concepts. 

Hardy said he left the private cooking game so his food could be more accessible to all, and he's proving that with the locations and variety of cuisine that he wants to offer with his forthcoming projects. 

He's got Motor City Pizza and Grinders, a small carryout-only spot near Seven Mile and I-75 that is fairly self explanatory. Hardy also has plans to team up with Kuzzo's Chicken and Waffles owner Ron Bartell to open What's Crackin', a neighborhood seafood restaurant near Seven Mile and Livernois in Detroit. 

His most ambitious project may be Honey, a $1.5 million bar and restaurant in Detroit's Harmonie Park that he's been chipping away at for a year and a half. The Afro Caribbean Cuban concept still a work in progress, and is currently on hold because of the virus. 

He said that while everything is "week-to-week" in terms of readying these new spots, "the planning and strategy process is still in place." 

 "As much as I want to continue putting good restaurants and good food out here in the community, it's like, what happens after this?" he asks. "We're all waiting to see how things roll."

"But if you don't put a hand in the race you can't win, so you got to strive to be great" he said. "You get a slice here, and a slice there and next thing you know you got the whole pot. That's kind of how my thought process goes."

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Hear more from Hardy on Sept. 10 during an online panel discussion about chefs and what they a doing to cope during the pandemic. Hosted by the Detroit Writing Room, the virtual event also includes chefs Omar Anani of Saffron de Twah, Erika Boyd of Detroit Vegan Soul, Rohani Foulkes of Nomadic Detroit and is moderated by me, The Detroit News restaurant critic. Learn more at detroitwritingroom.com/speakers-series.

mbaetens@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @melodybaetens