Max Brenner's Sweet Secret to Success

Max Brenner, founder of Max Brenner: Chocolate by the Bald Man, did not plan on creating a chocolate brand that spanned the globe. Brenner wanted to become a writer.

“Today, I am a chocolate writer. I am writing my story in chocolate,” said Brenner.

With two stores currently in the U.S., Brenner is planning to expand the global brand next to Boston and Vegas. Business is booming for this former-pastry-chef-turned-chocolate-creator, with sales up 15% this year.

Brenner said his secret to success was finding what the dessert marketplace was missing, and then bringing his idea to life.

“It is a new chocolate culture,” said Brenner.

Q: Why did you first get into the chocolate business?

Brenner: The truth is, it was by mistake ... I wanted to be something else. I needed to support myself [to get there], so it was kind of a side work so I could write. I started to work as a pastry chef, mostly in Europe, which I did for about five years. Eventually, I worked with a chocolate-maker in Paris, but it was all the time, [so I had no time for writing].

I came back to Israel and opened a chocolate store, thinking that this store was going to finance my writing. When I started it, I didn’t really understand what it means to have a business -- but it was so demanding and beautiful at the same time … Maybe one day I will write a book.

Q: Many people have said that they are turning to comfort food in this economy, do you see that?

Brenner: We saw business increase almost 15% versus last year. This is the more serious answer.

The other answer is more romantic. At this time, people find comfort food, especially chocolate, as something that gives them some happiness. It is some indulgence in this not-so-comfortable situation, and therefore, they come here to find their legal drug.

Q: In this economy, what is driving you to expand in the U.S.?

Brenner: When we arrived to the states about three years ago, we already had operations in Singapore, the Philippines and Australia, where we have 19 stores. In Israel, we have six stores. We [believe] this concept very much works in the American market.

Q: Did you have to change the brand concept at all once you opened up shop in America?

Brenner: [Yes.] Since the business first started in Israel, we needed to adjust to this market.

Q: After Manhattan, why did you choose Philadelphia, specifically, as your next area to expand?  What is next on the agenda?

Brenner: Philadelphia is a big enough market. Manhattan is almost an anomaly. Philadelphia is closer to other U.S. cities. From there, we want to go to Boston -- and we have plans about Vegas.

Q: Are you seeing certain products selling better in the current tough times?

Brenner: People are turning to our desserts. Most of our desserts are like warm dough with pure-melted chocolate. Our chocolate pizza is one of the best sellers.

Q: Is Halloween one of your biggest times of the year? What are the top-three holidays for business?

Brenner: No. Christmas is the number one by far. Lots of kids come here, especially for the restaurant part, but the shop is less for kids and it is more oriented [toward] the sophisticated chocolate consumer.

[Top three are] Christmas, Valentine’s Day [and then] Mother’s Day.

Q: What are your secrets to success?

Brenner: I think for many years there was a contradiction [in] the way people think of chocolate. When you talk to customers about chocolate, it is sensual and emotional. Then, you come into a regular chocolate store, [and] you [are] limited to one experience of buying pralines … like diamonds. For the first time, we are allowing people to experience every characteristic of chocolate. It is a new chocolate culture.