Founders’ spirit lives on in Max’s Group
Maximo F. Gimenez and his wife’s niece Ruby S. Trota may have long left this earth, but their pioneering spirit continues to make its strong presence felt in publicly listed Max’s Group Inc., the country’s largest casual dining restaurant group.
With a legacy built around being genuine, thoughtful and delightful, the Max’s Group that traces its beginnings to 1945, when Gimenez opened the ground floor of his house as a bar and cafe catering to American soldiers, has expanded to a chain with 14 brands and 544 branches here and abroad and a net income of P247.74 million as of first half of 2015.
By 2020, the group now managed by the third generation “cousins’ consortium,” is envisioning a formidable network of 1,000 branches, of which 200 will be in various markets abroad.
Max’s Group president and CEO Robert Trota, who spent summers helping his grandmother, Ruby, tells the Inquirer in an interview that the group has seen significant changes over the past 70 years, from the expansion through franchising to the acquisition of brands and listing on the Philippine Stock Exchange.
But what the cousins and management will jealously guard against any dangerous modification or deviation are the core values that boil down to respecting the customer.
“We have always been told that if you have to do something, you have to do it right the first time. That is our culture,” says Trota.
This culture is translated into action across all stages of operation, brands and platforms, from the design of the branches for maximum comfort of the customers, to the taste and portion sizes of the meals and the service provided by the frontline staff.
Management, for instance, even decided to formulate its own ketchup out of respect for the loyal customers of Max’s restaurants, who have made a ritual out of mixing the special ketchup with Worcestershire sauce to pair with the famous “sarap to the bones” Max’s fried chicken, the recipe of which was developed and perfected by Ruby Trota.
“We will always make things better. We cannot stop just because let’s say costs are going up. We continuously improve the menu and the customer experience. The journey will never stop,” says Trota.
In the beginning, the family members were content with having about 50 Max’s branches and running them independently.
It did not take long, however, for the families to consolidate their holdings and professionalize operations, marketing and branding to strengthen the foundation of what would become the Max’s Group.
Then, as a response to public clamor to bring the Max’s brand to their areas, the group finally went into franchising in 1997, with Max’s Harrison Plaza becoming the first franchised restaurant in 1998.
Trota says the group has always been deliberate in its approach because it wants to make sure it is fully committed to executing the plan of action.
“We love what we do. The passion is there. It’s either we give it our 110 percent or we don’t touch it at all. We do not do something we are not all involved in. That is a part of our heritage, a part of our DNA,” stresses Trota.
Then came the bold move in 2006 to represent in the Philippines foreign brands, starting with Krispy Kreme.
“We asked ourselves, can we do it? Are we globally ready? That was the question. The Philippines was not even on the radar then of foreign franchisors, but when we met with them, we showed who we are, that we are restaurateurs with a passion for food,” says Trota, sharing that he and his siblings and cousins are used to celebrating occasions such as Valentine’s and Christmas after the actual holidays because these are peak times for the restaurants.
That passion was hard for the international brands to ignore thus leading to the decision to award the Philippines franchise of Krispy Kreme to Max’s Group, which also won the franchise for Jamba Juice.
Then in 2014, Max’s Group acquired listed Pancake House Inc., allowing it to eventually take over the operations of other known brands such as Pancake House, Yellow Cab and Teriyaki Boy.
Trota says the group is still in the process of getting the whole network attuned to the Max’s core values, but he reports that the people behind the other brands are “excited” about the new culture.
It will just be a matter of time before everyone, from the frontliners to managers and top executives live and work according to the Max’s Group core values and culture established long ago, thus laying the foundation for the next stage of growth.
“We are definitely ready for at least the next 70 years. The global market is there for us and we are proud to go there and say that we are all proudly from the Philippines,” says Trota.
That should put a wide smile on the faces of the founders looking down on the Max’s Group from heaven.
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