To say that Max Winger was something of a precocious child is an understatement. Really, he was more of a prodigy, having the creative mind—and the talent—to conceptualize and execute a four-course pre-fixe meal at the age of ten in a restaurant and then going on to work part-time in kitchens by the tender (and barely legally eligible) age of 14. Naturally, he continued on in that track through high school and college, and then he took the ultimate leap of faith. “When I graduated from FSU in the spring of 2020, COVID was at its peak, and the future seemed bleak and uncertain,” he recalls. “I figured if the world was going to end, I would just go for it. I opened Max’s Steaks, Shakes and Fries with every last penny I had, working around the clock to make it happen. In the end, it was well worth it. If I had a chance to go back and make those choices again, I would have it the same way a million times over.”
At the time, Winger had just come off what can only be termed a fiasco involving his previous employer. But as a well-loved member of the Tallahassee restaurant community—and, really, the community at large—he was met with support and encouragement to move forward with his own venture. Of course, there were challenges, but Winger went on, undeterred. “Securing a commercial lease, as a 22-year-old, with little to no business ownership experience was a major challenge,” he recalls. “Finding and keeping a reliable staff was always a challenge. Some days I was the plumber, or the graphic designer, or the dishwasher, or the accountant, or the contractor. As a small business owner, no matter what challenges I faced, it was up to me and only me to overcome them.”
Challenges and all, Max’s was the fulfillment of a dream. “My time operating Max’s will forever be remembered as some of the best times of my life,” Winger says. “It took a good while for it to sink in that I was really the owner of a restaurant. My office was a kitchen, and what could be better than that? Having the ability to create my own menu items was certainly a high point. Beyond that, creating the sandwich of the month each month was probably my favorite part of the job. Having full freedom to develop my very own recipes and, even better, receive great feedback from customers was just amazing. Just interacting with customers in general was often the best part of my day. Whether it was customers coming in to get the sandwich of the month for the tenth time that month or seeing Tallahassee Foodies rave about their favorites online, these interactions made all of it well worth it.”
With all the success that Max’s has seen over the past two years, it came as a shock to hear the announcement that Winger was closing his doors to join the impressive and talented culinary team at Charlie Park. Chef Max will be training for the role of Executive Chef under the direction of Charlie Park’s founding Executive Chef Christopher Palmer now currently acting as chief culinary consultant for the space. “Charlie Park approached me in mid-April,” Winger explains. “I was delighted to have their interest and was immediately excited at the prospect of working there. We discussed my role and position, which is essentially to work with the culinary team on creating and serving an amazing menu.”
For Matt Thompson, Managing Partner of For the Table Hospitality, the parent corporation of such restaurants as Charlie Park, Township, Social Kitchen, Madison Social, and Social Catering & Events, the decision to bring Winger onto the team was a no-brainer. “We were looking for an energetic, go-getter that could lead the team and I thought to myself, ‘Who do I know that fits that description?’ I called Max, and after about 15 minutes of hearing our needs, his answer was simple: ‘I don’t mean to sound pompous, but you need me.’ He then proceeded to tell me about where he was in life and the pivot he was thinking about even before my phone call. It was a perfect fit.”
Still, with Max’s being such a personal endeavor, the choice to make the move was not made lightly. “Closing Max’s is one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever had to make,” Winger says. “All of the highpoints and amazing times will be gone, but not forgotten. While I carry a very heavy heart moving on from Max’s, I know this new adventure is better for me and my family. I don’t think there is anything directly sweet about closing Max’s, per se, but I am very excited about what lies ahead. Transitioning from owning and operating Max’s to my new endeavor with Charlie Park will reduce the constant, daily stresses of being solely responsible for a business and will allow me to focus on what I truly love: food. And being able to influence and create menu items in a fine dining restaurant is thrilling for me. We are currently full steam ahead on developing the fall menu, and I can’t wait to bring some delicious show-stopping dishes to the table.” Winger is also newly engaged, so amazing changes are ahead for this incredibly talented young chef.