As is often the case in hospitality, Huntington Woods native Max Sussman fell into professional cooking by accident.
The cook at a summer camp where Max was preparing to become a camp counselor threw his back out and the camp asked if he could help out for a few weeks in the kitchen.
“I was already into cooking but never did it in a professional setting,” Max says. “I was totally into it. I loved getting to work on all the ingredients and I loved how it was physical and working with your hands and you can immediately see the results of it.”
Even then, at the age of 19 or 20, Max was into buying organic and local, well before they became pop culture buzzwords.
The cooking bug got Max through college at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where he worked his way up the ranks at lauded culinary establishments like Zingerman’s Deli and chef Eve Aronoff’s eponymous Eve restaurant.
In 2010, Max moved to New York City to continue chasing his culinary ambitions, landing at April Bloomfield’s Michelin-starred The Breslin before becoming the chef de cuisine at Roberta’s in Brooklyn. During his three years at Roberta’s, the New York Times bestowed it with two stars for its creative, boundary pushing cuisine.
Next, Max served as executive chef at The Cleveland in Manhattan, immersing himself in a serious sourdough bread program and experimenting with Middle Eastern ingredients like zhug and za’atar around the same time he and his brother Eli began discussing opening a restaurant together.
In 2015, Samesa, the Sussman brothers’ ode to the Middle Eastern restaurants of Dearborn and metro Detroit, debuted in the Berg’n food hall.
“We really wanted to make shawarma because we like eating it and that’s about as far as we thought through everything,” Max quips. “Our goal was to make a place where you could get great food very fast, very fresh, and very affordable.”
Samesa eventually grew into its own brick-and-mortar space in Williamsburg, where it lasted for four years until the COVID-19 pandemic forced a move to 30 Rockefeller Plaza in Midtown Manhattan in March 2021.
Max had moved back to Michigan with his wife and young son just before the pandemic hit and was set to introduce Samesa to the metro Detroit audience with a series of Sunday dinners at Frame. But COVID-19 put a kibosh on those plans before they could be fully realized.
Finding himself back home without a restaurant to run, Max pivoted and launched Pizza Replicator, a Star Trek-inspired pizza pop-up that began slinging pies out of Roos Roast cafe in Ann Arbor Sunday nights.
People responded positively, and now Pizza Replicator is setting its sights on a permanent space in the Ann Arbor area.
In between Pizza Replicator and private cheffing gigs, Max continues to be involved in Samesa, though Eli now handles the day-to-day. Max is also culinary director at Bog & Thunder, an Irish foodways and travel company founded and run by his wife, Kate McCabe.