Max & Erma's refreshes its restaurants


What’s old is new again for Max & Erma’s, as the 73-unit casual-dining chain debuted a new look last week that will be the basis for a systemwide remodeling program and resumed growth.

Max & Erma’s new prototype in its headquarters city of Columbus, Ohio, blends many of the chain’s quirky design elements with modern décor, said Hazem Ouf, chief executive of Denver-based parent company American Blue Ribbon Holdings LLC, or ABRH.

New interior elements include a brick fireplace, more flat screen TVs and draft beer taps to build business in the lounge area, and more varied seating areas to break up a “sea of tables,” Ouf said.

The 7,200-square-foot space holds the same number of seats as a typical Max & Erma’s unit, which is about 500 square feet smaller, Ouf said. Future locations will total about 6,500 square feet.

The fireplace separates the dining room from the lounge and group-seating rooms, but the prototype retains an open floor plan, allowing families, couples and bar patrons to use the restaurant simultaneously, Ouf said.

“We’ve divided the restaurant into several sections, with ‘date night’ seating or ‘movie night’ seating, as well as more high tops for groups in the bar,” he said. “We wanted to give the consumer the ability to come here several times a month and not feel like it’s ‘been here, done that’ and that it looks like every other restaurant in the marketplace.”

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The new prototype shows the brand has “evolved,” Ouf said, but Max & Erma’s characteristic touches from its 1958 founding and expansion through the 1970s remain. Antlers mounted on the walls hold old-fashioned hats, decorative shoes adorn banquettes, bar stools have human-looking legs and the sundae bar sits in an old bathtub next to “Erma’s Cookie Wall.”

“We were trying to bring Max & Erma’s back to its heritage, and the look and feel of this prototype absolutely fit the bill,” Ouf said.