This Mother & Daughter Became Boss Restaurateurs Because Florida Was Boring
If you ever meet a woman who has five kids, your first thought is probably, “holy shit, how does she manage that?”
Well, Babette Haddad is one of those women with five kids — she also owns a restaurant.
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Well, co-owns, actually. She built Maxwell’s Chophouse – which has one location in NYC and previously held a location in Boca Raton, Florida — from the ground up with one of her daughters, Melissa.
There are lots of heart-warming stories you’ll hear on Mother’s Day, but how about a story about two bosses that used their skills to open an insane bougie steakhouse?
We talked to Babette and Melissa about how they opened their first restaurant on a whim because Florida was boring, how they balance family and business, and how they turned Maxwell’s Steakhouse into the lit place it is today.
If you go to Maxwell’s Steakhouse in Midtown, NYC, you’ll see an insane Art Deco interior that screams “bad and bougie.” Sit down and order yourself a steak, and you’ll feel like you’re really living the high life.
But, the restaurant wasn’t always this way.
Basically, Babette’s husband bought a property that was once an upscale Chinese restaurant. Multiple new owners leased it out, but their restaurants always failed. Babette moved down to Florida the next year to raise her youngest bb, and Melissa graduated the next year and moved down to Florida also. Naturally, Florida is a lot slower than NYC, and Babette and Melissa were both bored.
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So, Babette just asked Melissa if she wanted to open a restaurant, and the plans for Maxwell’s Steakhouse began to take form.
“Melissa went to work in a local restaurant to learn anything she could about the business,” says Babette. “We reorganized and redecorated, logos were born, menus conceived, and chefs and assistants were hired.”
They named the restaurant after the baby of the family, Maxwell. They opened after only six months of planning.
“We not only opened a new restaurant, but one that had 250 seats to fill,” she says. “We were always a mother and daughter, but now we were officially business partners, which happily continues today.”
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What was the toughest part about starting a business together?
Melissa was always the numbers person. Babette is the aesthetic one and the foodie. She was constantly coming up with new variations on dishes, or breads and desserts. [Side note: they have, like, five different types of bread you can choose from — FO FREE!] To say she was particular was not a stretch. So we had many, many discussions about why we needed to spend more for this food and that ingredient and we didn’t always agree. Finding good staff has always been a challenge. We have always had a certain vision for Maxwell’s and finding staff who follow that vision hasn’t always been easy. We are very trusting and we have been burned too many times.
Melissa, did you ever think that you’d be doing business with your mom?
When we first went into business together I was young and very excited to have the opportunity to be working and learning a business. I worked seven days a week, fifteen hour days. I believed that “I wouldn’t ask anyone to do anything I myself wasn’t willing to do.” That is how I worked to gain the respect of the employees who worked with us, some for the 14 years we were in business.
Then when my mom came to me and said she was thinking of reopening Maxwell’s in NYC, I asked if she “had lost her mind?” After many talks and hours of soul searching, we decided to give it a try…Certainly not an easy undertaking since now I wasn’t in my early 20’s anymore, I was now married with three children who all need my attention.
My mother loves the “party” of the business, she loves the people and the excitement the restaurant brings. We have always been close, and although we have our differences, we try to work through them and don’t let business get in the way of family.
Babette, did you ever think that you’d be doing business with your daughter?
For me, going into business with my daughter was a natural adjunct to our life and relationship. Through the years my second daughter Heidi, now a psychotherapist, worked for our company for over two years when Melissa decided to go to graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania. My Son Maxwell was raised in the restaurant cutting strawberries, and was the best cappuccino maker. My other two daughters have always been major supporters.
The restaurant industry — in terms of restaurant owners and managers — is largely dominated by men. Do you find that people are surprised Maxwell’s is run by two women? Are there other ways you feel like you have to prove yourselves as women?
In the beginning, all the liquor and wine reps were men. They always asked for my husband. Melissa and I were always a strong presence in the restaurant, so not too many people didn’t know we owned it, yet there are still people who think they know more just by virtue that they are men. A man recently said to Babette, “I am surprised every day by how much you know.” Funny thing is he didn’t realize how insulting and disrespectful the comment was.
What’s something most people don’t know about running a restaurant?
Everyone knows owning a restaurant is hard work and long days. What people often forget when something does not go the way they like is that this is not their last meal and we are not infallible, and unfortunately, sometimes we do make mistakes. We always want to make the experience better and we are always sorry when a guest is not happy.