Detroit native and celebrity chef Maxcel Hardy is on a mission to open three restaurants in Detroit and help revitalize the city.
Detroit-born Chef Maxcel Hardy has quite the resume. He not only cooked his way to the final round on Food Network’s Chopped, but acted as personal chef to celebrities like basketball star Amar’e Stoudemire. He also authored a plethora of cookbooks while simultaneously owning a private catering company, Chef Max Miami. While this might sound exhausting for a typical chef or even your average adult, Hardy has plenty more on his to-do list. First on his agenda is contributing to Detroit’s revitalization. Not only is he opening multiple restaurants, but he is also intent on creating more culinary opportunities in the city.
Hardy began experimenting in the Detroit food community last year while hosting a pop-up series at Revolver in Hamtramck. After an astounding response, he felt he was destined to return home and add to the city’s rebirth. Since settling in Roseville in February, Hardy hasn’t stopped moving. Already familiar with the city, he stumbled upon a former fried chicken spot in the Rosedale Park neighborhood. With ample kitchen space and a quaint dining area, Hardy purchased the building and transformed it into River Bistro. For Hardy, River Bistro is not just about serving exceptional cuisine. “I’m trying to change the narrative of how people look at food in this community, giving you the same quality you get in Midtown or Downtown,” he said.
While brainstorming the concept for River Bistro, he envisioned a funky yet wholesome vibe, contrasting with the many quick-service food stops along Grand River. The cuisine is a flavorful blend of two of his loves, Caribbean and soul food. Hardy’s grandmother was born in the South, while his mother hails from the Bahamas. River Bistro’s decor is also family-oriented. Hardy hired a local artist to create a captivating mural of a dark-haired woman with a flower in her hair, representing a combined image of his mother and 13-year-old daughter.
When it came to the menu, the ideas flowed naturally. Hardy created a handful of dishes with playful titles, like the Barn Yard Pimp — a succulent, honey-glazed fried chicken, and the Return of Tha Mac-N-Cheese. “The menu reflects my personality — fun, with a little fusion and a little risqué at times,” Hardy said. Bestsellers are the jerk ribs and the maple and garlic salmon served with fluffy cilantro-infused rice and sautéed spinach. For brunch, Hardy serves up a mean sweet potato waffle with honey chicken and savory shrimp with smoked cheddar grits. River Bistro features family-style seating for up to 18 guests, with spacious tables in the main dining area and a second set of 18 seats in the private dining room.
On top of managing the day-to-day operations at River Bistro, Hardy runs his own nonprofit, One Chef Can 86 Hunger foundation, which focuses on fighting the hunger epidemic in America. Hardy also ventures to Africa to help build and restore schools, kitchens, and libraries. Giving back to his community is a core value for Hardy. With his return to Detroit, he is determined to raise a new generation of culinary experts.
Hardy recently developed an urban farm on the same block where he was born and raised. He plans to bring a food truck on the property to teach local children the step-by-step process of farm-to-table food preparation. His latest idea is creating a culinary school in Detroit as he is eager to train future chefs in a city that has just recently become a food mecca.
Even with these projects under way, Hardy is gearing up for two additional restaurant openings in 2018. Coop, which Hardy fondly nicknamed, “The Boston Market on steroids,” will be located in the Cass Corridor, featuring a flavorful blend of Asian and Caribbean food with a rotisserie-style twist. Hardy’s second development, Honey, is set to open next summer. This highly anticipated restaurant will be in the heart of The District Detroit neighboring Little Caesars Arena, highlighting the African and Caribbean roots of soul food.
While he’s more than comfortable in the kitchen, he keeps his own meals simple. Most of the time, he can be found devouring a colorful salad after a packed day. Even with a full plate, Hardy is now spending time reconnecting with the people of Detroit, helping to progress the food culture and inspiring others. “Being a chef is much more than cooking every day, so I try to use everything that I know as a chef to bring to the forefront of my community,” he said.