For chocolate lovers, the name Max Brenner conjures the image of a bald man. But few may know who that bald man is—or how much this brand hurt and taught him. Here’s the short of it: Max Brenner is a restaurant and retail shop with 50-plus locations worldwide that sells delights like a fondue tower or a chocolate pizza. Its tagline is “Chocolate by the bald man,” and its logo is an illustration of…a bald man. Is it Max Brenner? Not quite. The founder is a bald Israeli man named Oded Brenner (Max was his original business partner), who created his first shop in the small town of Ra’anana 25 years ago, and eventually sold it to the Israeli food conglomerate Strauss Group. But when Brenner started a separate café chain with what he says was Strauss’s blessing, the parent company sued him for breach of contract. He went broke fighting the lawsuit, and was banned from creating anything chocolate-related or putting his name or face on any brand for five years. (Strauss did not respond to Entrepreneur’s request for comment.) Here, Brenner opens up about how he came to view that devastating time in exile as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
You built Max Brenner into a hit. Why’d you sell it?
Maybe three years in, if I was making money, it was for sure not enough to continue. I had to bring on a partner. Strauss was the largest food corporation in Israel. They gave me a very nice salary, bonuses, consulting fees, and a little bit of royalties but left me with 3.5 percent equity. I convinced myself that it would eventually be a billion-dollar company and my 3.5 percent could be $35 million. But to be honest with you, I was also so in love with my own creation that I wasn’t thinking rationally. I was addicted—in a good way—to the food, to the love, to the applause. [Strauss] gave me the impression that there was no brand without me.
What was it like going from running your company to being part of a corporation?
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