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Partners

Max Hospitality consists of 10 restaurants and a highly successful catering company. With the help of our partners, we are able to deliver beyond our guests’ expectations and strive to provide uncompromising quality, service, style & cuisine.

CEO & President

Scott Smith

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Scott Smith
CEO & President
Vice President

Steven Abrams

Born in Providence, RI, Steven grew up in his family’s retail business. It was there that he learned the importance of successful customer service. Steven attended Bentley College in Waltham, MA, which he credits for giving him the business strategies that have been instrumental in his success. A few years after college, Steven left his family business for the restaurant industry. After a two-year stint with Tatou Restaurants first in Manhattan and then Aspen, CO, he teamed up with his college roommate, Richard Rosenthal. Steven joined the Max Group as an assistant manager at Max on Main. In 1996, he became a partner and opened Max Downtown in Hartford. Steven is also a partner in Max’s Oyster Bar and Trumbull Kitchen. Steven feels his entrepreneurial skills and business practices have earned him a reputation as a leader and innovative manager. He strives daily to exceed his customer’s expectations and motivate his staff to excellence.

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Steven Abrams
Vice President
Culinary Director

Hunter Morton

Hunter Morton has been working in professional kitchens since the age of 18. He attended the Culinary Institute of America and worked with celebrity Chef Emeril Lagasse at his NOLA Restaurant in New Orleans. Looking to expand his cooking horizons, Hunter worked at restaurants in Oregon and Napa Valley and moved east to Connecticut where he joined the Max Restaurant Group in 2005 as Executive Chef at Max Downtown. After a successful run of 10 years, helping win numerous awards for the restaurant, he moved over to Max’s Oyster Bar, where he stayed for 3 years. In the summer of 2019, he was promoted to his current position as Culinary Director for the Max Restaurant Group. He now oversees all of the Max chefs and helps guide their culinary visions with a focus on utilizing high-quality seasonal and local foods.

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Hunter Morton
Culinary Director
Max’s Oyster Bar

Bob Cooke

Bob Cooke developed a great passion for seafood while growing up on the Connecticut shore.  He started lobstering in the “Sound” at the age of fifteen after realizing it was a great way to get a delicacy easily and inexpensively.

Bob received degrees in hotel and restaurant management from New York’s Paul Smith College and Florida International University in Miami.  His professional career began with Howard Johnson’s and later Hilton Hotels.

With years of experience in the hotel hospitality industry, Bob joined Boston’s famous Legal Seafood Restaurant Group.  During his 12 years as a General Manager, Bob helped open four restaurants, including the highly successful new concept, Logan Airport Oyster Bar.  He credits Legal Seafood Restaurant for introducing him to the world of high volume.

Bob has brought his extraordinary knowledge of seafood and sophisticated restaurant operations to Max’s Oyster Bar as Partner and General Manager.

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Bob Cooke
Max’s Oyster Bar
Max Fish

Brian Costa

As Managing Partner of Max Fish, Brian Costa has accomplished his childhood dream. Growing up in the kitchen of his mother and grandmother, fine food and the love that goes into it has been engrained since early on. Brian began in casual dining as a high school student. In college, he continued working part time in dining while pursuing his Entrepreneurship Degree at Johnson & Wales. His Bachelors Degree in Communications and Advertising came from the University of Connecticut. After some time in corporate America, Brian returned to the restaurant business as Manager of The U.S.S. Chowder Pot IV in Hartford Connecticut. The fine dining of the Max Group called to him and brought him to management at Max's Oyster Bar in West Hartford Connecticut. His understanding of staff issues, food quality and outstanding customer service gave him the opportunity of a lifetime;  Partner of the new seafood restaurant and the seventh jewel in the Max Restaurant Group.

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Brian Costa
Max Fish
Trumbull Kitchen

Chris Torla

Chris Torla attended the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY.  A scholarship brought him to the School for American Chefs at Beringer Vineyards in Napa Valley.  He began his career in New Hampshire with a stop in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Later, he returned to the San Francisco Bay area to further refine his culinary skills at some of Northern California’s premiere restaurants, including Mustard’s and Fog City Diner.

In 1998, a nationwide search brought Chris to Connecticut where he joined Max Restaurant Group as the executive chef at Max Downtown. With Chef Torla at the helm, Max Downtown earned 3-stars from CT Magazine and a 26 rating from Zagat’s Restaurant Survey.

Those successes led to a partnership with Richard Rosenthal in the new Trumbull Kitchen in Hartford.  In addition to the challenges of being an executive chef, he now has the added responsibilities of owning and managing a hip, new restaurant.

Chris is active in his community as well.  He has made several appearances on local cooking shows and been showcased at charity cooking events.  His recipes and menu ideas have also been featured in national trade publications.

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Chris Torla
Trumbull Kitchen
Max Burger

Doug Kelly

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Doug Kelly
Max Burger
Max Tavern

John Thomas

John was just 19 years old when he was first introduced to the Max Restaurant Group at the Avon location, Max A Mia ten years ago. He made a quick transition from making pizzas to becoming a Sous Chef. John learned the back of house operations inside and out before setting his sights on becoming a floor manager.  He managed the front of the house for Brad Karsky for a short time before taking a position with Mark Conley’s management team at Max Amore.  Soaking up knowledge at each location John soon became the “rounds man” of the Max Restaurant Group.  His next stop was working with Bob Cooke at the Oyster Bar as a floor manager and also as Chef. To round out his education, John worked in a floor management position with Steven Abrams at Max Downtown before ascending to become the General Manager of Max’s Tavern in Springfield, MA.

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John Thomas
Max Tavern
The Cooper

William Penenori

After graduating from Florida State University with a major in hospitality, Mr. Penenori has been managing restaurants for over 25 years.  He has been a General Manager for several major restaurants in the South Florida area since the early 90's and is well familiarized with Palm Beach Gardens.

Some of the restaurants William has managed include L&N Seafood, J.Alexander's, Abe & Louie's and Houston's.  He enjoys getting involved with local charities and helping with the local community programs and looks forward to this new and exciting venture.

In his free time, Will spends most days outdoors and trying new places to dine with his beautiful wife Liz, his daughter Katerina, and son Willie.

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William Penenori
The Cooper