Forbes Travel Guide “Talking to Nashville’s Radical Restaurateur”
Max Goldberg is the co-owner of Nashville’s Strategic Hospitality, a restaurant group responsible for some of the hottest tables in Music City, along with his older brother, Benjamin. With a background in finance and consulting, Goldberg spent several years in New York City before returning to Nashville to team up with his brother. Since joining the group in 2007, the dynamic duo has opened hot spots such as burger-and-beer joint Paradise Park; Aerial, a rooftop private event space atop Paradise Park; The Patterson House, a Prohibition era-esque restaurant and bar; and, most recently, Pinewood Social, which offers everything from bowling and karaoke to coffee and gourmet bites (think beef tongue Reuben and crispy veal sweetbreads). As you’ll read in this interview with Max, the brothers stick to their philosophy of creating spaces that reflect where they are in life and spots where they would be the first to go.
How did you get into the restaurant hospitality business?
I always had a passion for hospitality. I always loved the hospitality industry in general. Benjamin is really the reason that I’m in this industry. My background was in finance and consulting. Benjamin had opened up three places here in Nashville and realized that he could either bring in someone with a ton of experience or he could bring in a partner that he just completely trusted. You definitely have a certain trust level with brothers. Benjamin really created the vision for our company and I was fortunate enough [in 2007] to move back and partner with them and kind of take this crazy train we’ve been on.
What do you love most about your job?
I love the people that I work with. I love the people I get to meet. I love that we get to work hard to try to exceed expectations every day. I like to be able to see memories being created. We’ve gotten countless letters from people thanking us for creating spaces where they met their husbands and they now have children together. One of my good friends that I grew up with met his [wife] at Paradise Park, our burger-and-beer joint on Lower Broadway, and his groom’s cake was actually the Paradise Park logo. It’s just incredible to be able to be part of people’s memories and special moments in their life. I absolutely love being able to work with these creative people doing some really interesting and thoughtful things in the food and beverage space.
What are you most proud of in your career?
I think the fact that Benjamin and I have really remained best friends through this whole process. There are, at times, stories you hear about brothers working together and they’re not success stories. I think that Benjamin and I have done an incredible job of balancing being best friends, brothers and business partners. When we opened up The Patterson House, I gave Benjamin a pocket watch that said, “We are best friends, brothers and business partners. Never let us forget that order.” One thing that I’m most proud of is the fact that I don’t think we ever have.
What’s the most difficult part of your job?
I think that managing people is definitely one of the harder parts. I think that in the hospitality space, we’re fortunate to be able to work with the people that we do. We capture them for this special moment in their life — not everyone wants to be in the hospitality industry forever and ever. So being able to help manage their hopes, dreams and aspirations, along with what ours are, is definitely a balance. I think that everyone we work with knows that we genuinely care about them and what they’re doing. We really try to work hard to be able to make sure that they’re embracing what our vision is for the company and they can still pursue other things they may be interested in.
What do you think makes a successful restaurant?
I think that it’s passion. I think no matter what you’re doing in the restaurant and hospitality space, you have to be super passionate about it and you have to absolutely love what you’re doing. You need to really put the guest experience and your passion before anything else. When we first open up a space, all we really care about is the guest experience. We obviously are very cognizant of the financials, but we really try not to let the financials dictate the decisions that we make for the business or for the guests. Historically, we’ve been really lucky that the financials have really found a way for us to have a very viable business. We really try never to sacrifice the guest experience.
What are some of your favorite restaurants?
Here in Nashville, I love Arnold’s [Country Kitchen] for meat-and-three. I think City House is fantastic. The Beacon Light Tea Room out in Bon Aqua, Tennessee, is a great family favorite, and they have some of the best fried chicken. In terms of New York, I think 15 East is one of my absolute favorite sushi places in the world. I do the omakase tasting. I’ll just sit at the chef’s bar and let them go crazy.
What’s your next business move?
I think from a bigger picture perspective, we always try to open projects that kind of show where we were at that point in our life. If you look at our portfolio, they’re pretty different; but I think it kind of tracks where Benjamin and I were personally and what was going on with us. We really try to create places where we’d be the first to go. Whatever we do next, if we’re fortunate enough to continue and keep opening fun spaces, I think we will really try to find something that also shows the fact that this is where we are personally in our life and where we’d be the first people to go.
What are the best things to do in Nashville?
I think a real hidden gem to Nashville — outside of just eating and drinking — is the Parthenon and Centennial Park. Benjamin and I were fortunate enough to grow up going there and walking around, feeding the ducks and going into the Parthenon. I think that’s definitely something that is unique to Nashville and something that people should check out when they’re here.