Frozen yogurt and ice cream may be the stars at America’s biggest dessert shops, but Max Brenner Chocolate Bar leaders hope the nation’s unwavering love for chocolate will fuel the brand’s success.
The New York–based concept, which will open its latest U.S. restaurant in Bethesda, Maryland, at the end of June, specializes in all things chocolate, from S’mores and tiramisu to fondue and chocolate pizza.
Sam Borgese, CEO of Max Brenner International, says the key to Max Brenner’s global success is the fact that chocolate is a “unifying factor for people all over the world.”
“It’s a product that was originally founded by the Aztecs in Mexico, and since has been a universal product amongst people regardless of what language, what geography,” Borgese says. “Everyone understands chocolate, some cultures treat it slightly different than others, but it unifies people around a single common food that everyone enjoys.”
For Max Brenner, the mantra “it’s all about the experience” has driven the business since the doors to the first Chocolate Bar opened in the late 1990s. From the European boutique-style shop to the sweet treats and the welcoming aroma, Max Brenner Chocolate Bar aims to create a consumer experience that is not easily forgotten.
Borgese attributes the company’s success to this unique experience and atmosphere.
“It’s an experiential environment where you walk in and you get the smell and atmosphere of chocolate. It’s much more vibrant, much more alive, much more engaging [than other chocolate shops],” he says. “It encourages you to be indulgent. It encourages you to look at chocolate in a different way. Its history and its essence are built around that and not around chocolatiers, boutique chocolate shops, or high-end chocolate brands. We differentiate ourselves with our experience and we believe that is the fun part of chocolate.”
Borgese says the store’s ability to attract individuals of all ages and backgrounds also helps the brand succeed. But he says the Chocolate Bar does attract a certain group more so than others.
“We draw a very female dominant demographic between the ages of 18 to 28,” he says. “There’s no secret that women love chocolate. It’s a fun thing to banter about, because it is a fact.”
Borgese adds that many couples enjoy visiting the Chocolate Bar for date night. “To a degree, men understand that bringing their girlfriends or wives to Max Brenner is an experience to share and relax and have fun with chocolate,” he says.
Max Brenner has Chocolate Bar stores in Israel, Singapore, the Philippines, Australia, and the U.S., with plans to expand into Russia and Japan soon. The company chose the new Bethesda location, Borgese says, because it is close to the Washington, D.C., metro area.
By Marlee Murphy