MAXimum choice: A grander Max's Grill returns to Olivia after fire

OLIVIA -- In the very heart of Minnesota's leading agricultural county, a simple platter of meat and potatoes no longer cuts it. Not when the menu choices include pan seared Canadian walleye, sirloin saut?ed with onions and merlot sauce, homemade...

OLIVIA -- In the very heart of Minnesota's leading agricultural county, a simple platter of meat and potatoes no longer cuts it.

Not when the menu choices include pan seared Canadian walleye, sirloin sautéed with onions and merlot sauce, homemade enchiladas, wild rice and ham soup, and Hawaiian pizza.

It can only mean that Max's Grill is back in Olivia. Its return comes just 10 months after a fire destroyed the popular restaurant and made its future seem uncertain.

"It's been wild,'' said co-owner Corey Buchtel of the days that have followed the November 7 re-opening of the restaurant in a new and much larger building.

Corey and his wife Traci opened the original Max's Grill in April, 2001 in the former Jimeeze Restaurant near the busy U.S. Highways 212 and 71 intersection. They made its reputation by introducing a diversified menu and an atmosphere more commonly associated with restaurants in downtown Minneapolis than a meat and potatoes eatery in the agricultural heart of western Minnesota. They were rewarded with strong patronage.


But the January 15, 2005 fire destroyed everything except a sign on the back door and copies of the restaurant's menu that had been kept elsewhere. It left the owner/operators uncertain about what to do. They had recently purchased the Sheep Shedde Inn restaurant and motel on the western edge of Olivia.

The Buchtel's considered the possibility of devoting their energies to the Sheep Shedde restaurant. With roots dating back to a 1938 start as the 212 Tavern, it became a fixture of the local dining and entertainment scene when Denny Hanson built it into the Sheep Shedde restaurant in 1976.

The Buchtels also considered invitations to bring the Max's Grill recipe for success to a larger venue in Redwood Falls.

They opted instead to tear down the Sheep Shedde restaurant and build in its place a larger and grander version of the original Max's Grill. The decision made, they told local contractor Keith Herdina that they needed the restaurant ready for the 2005 holiday season.

He got the job done in 5½ months from groundbreaking to opening day.

Buchtel said that nearly every day he and the contractor fielded inquiries from people asking: "When are you going to open?''

Today, Buchtel said he more often hears: "What is this Minneapolis restaurant doing in Olivia, Minnesota?'' Hearing the question makes him feel good, said Buchtel.

And without a doubt, the best of Minneapolis inspired what is offered at Max's Grill. Whenever Corey and Traci managed some free time, they made Minneapolis restaurants their destination. Buchtel said they always enjoy the opportunity to try out different places and cuisine in the metropolitan area.


The couple share more than a love for good food and the restaurant business. The Olivia natives also share a passion for their hometown. It was an important consideration in their decision to leave careers in the Willmar and New London-Spicer areas and open Max's Grill in 2001, and with the more recent one to stay put, according to Bucthel.

The restaurant is named for the couple's second child, seven year-old Max. The family also includes Taylor, 12, and Katie, 5.

Their restaurant family includes an ever growing work force. The Buchtel's opened the restaurant with expectations of employing 24 to 34 full and part-time workers. Today the roster is closer to 50 employees. The new restaurant is seeing more patronage than the original, and it's much larger, Buchtel explained.

The new and larger Max's Grill offers table seating for up to 175 in the main dining areas. It also holds a reception center that can accommodate table seating for up 250. The area can also be divided into three separate sections for smaller events.

Max's Grill also features a game room with a sport's bar ambience and a spacious, hand-built wet bar surrounded by 20 stools.

Some of the decorative light fixtures from the former Sheep Shedde restaurant, and the copper sheeting from its fireplace, are back in Max's Grill.

Buchtel said that the business has attracted patronage from the Willmar to Redwood Falls areas, and similar distances east and west along U.S. Highway 212.

While there's no doubt that many customers are attracted by the diverse menu, meat and potato lovers need not fear. The entrée menu includes Midwestern favorites like prime rib and steak and potatoes. There are seven different burger and fry baskets to try, none with a burger smaller than one-half pound.

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