It was a bizarre confluence of events: On July 14, less than 24 hours after the owners of Max’s Kosher Cafe announced that the restaurant will close this month after nearly 30 years at its University Boulevard location, Max’s manager Harold Burke was stabbed during an altercation outside the restaurant. Statements of disappointment and support on social media at the news of the impending closure soon mixed with expressions of alarm and concern after news of Burke’s stabbing spread.
Burke was hospitalized at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda but is in stable condition and is expected to make a full recovery, The Shalom Group Founder and President Larry Dekelbaum confirmed. The Shalom Group owns Max’s, grocery store Shalom Kosher, and Signature Catering.
Suspect Bryant Whack, 32, of Silver Spring, is charged with first-degree assault, the Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD) wrote in a release. He was apprehended when officers observed a male matching Whack’s description running behind a laundromat on Georgia Avenue. As of July 16, he was being held without bond.
According to a patron who was at the restaurant at the time of the incident, Burke was first called to the register by a female cashier when a man became agitated that he could not order food without paying first. “She went to get the manager and asked him to stay with her because she was uncomfortable,” said the patron, a Kemp Mill resident who asked that her name not be used to protect her privacy.
“He came back into the restaurant and started asking people for money, but the manager told him that he couldn’t do it. He grabbed a container of money from the counter and ran away. The manager pursued him, and that was when he was stabbed.”
According to the police report, Burke was also sprayed with pepper spray by the assailant and was transported to the hospital in serious condition. A family member confirmed that the medical staff at Suburban were able to stabilize Burke within the same afternoon and he is on the mend.
Missing Max’s already
When Max’s opened three decades ago, “we were pretty thrilled we didn’t have to go to Baltimore to get burgers and fries,” said Jay Marcus, a Kemp Mill resident, via Messenger. “The fact it had schwarma [sic] meant people from Baltimore came down here, because Baltimore didn’t have that yet.”
David Goodman, another Kemp Mill resident and a lifelong Max’s customer, expressed sadness at news that the restaurant is closing July 28. “[I have] such great memories as a kid watching Momi [a member of Max’s staff] make me a great schwarma [sic] or falafel, then finishing it as quickly as I could so I could try to get the high score on the soccer video game,” he said via Messenger. “Momi knew everyone’s order by heart. You didn’t even need to tell him what you wanted.”
It’s the end of an era, he concluded.
Echoing the sentiments in the official announcement from The Shalom Group, Dekelbaum expressed appreciation for the community’s patronage of the restaurant over the years in an interview on Monday.
While speculation on social media varied as to the reason behind the closure —the space was too big, perhaps, or the effects of the pandemic hit the business too hard — Dekelbaum laid the blame on the parking setup at Max’s current location.
“The problem was with the back parking lot and the front parking lot — at night it wasn’t appealing,” he said. He denied that incidents like the one that led to Burke’s stabbing were an ongoing problem, but conceded that the area where Max’s is located has “gotten a little shaky.”
The company’s original hope was to relocate the restaurant rather than close it, he said; and while that didn’t work out in the time frame needed, it is still something The Shalom Group would like to accomplish in the future, if there is local support for the move, Dekelbaum said.
Rachel Kohn is a freelance writer Follow her on Twitter at @RachelKTweets and see more of her work at authory.com/rachelkohn.