His favorite food is grilled cheese made with Velveeta. His pride and joy is a fluffy, white-haired Bichon Frise puppy named Jean-Georges. And despite a demanding career-known to have turned some otherwise gentle souls into irascible dictators-he has been dubbed by one colleague as “a cute, cuddly teddy bear.”
Anthony Gullace is one of Rochester’s best-known chefs and culinary entrepreneurs. As principal of Max Rochester, Gullace, 52, oversees five properties: Max at Eastman Place Inc.; Max at the Gallery Inc.; Max Chophouse, Max at High Falls and Max Market.
The first three establishments are restaurants with dishes ranging from Chilean sea bass with asparagus, shiitake mushrooms and soy truffle vinaigrette to panko-crusted Atlantic salmon with tomato, arugula, pancetta and herb aioli.
Max at High Falls, 60 Brown’s Race, is a three-story facility suitable for weddings, charity dinners and other private social functions. Max Market, which opened on Monroe Avenue in Pittsford last November, features gourmet prepared dishes as well as meats, cheeses, seafood and bakery items. Gullace modeled the market after Dean & DeLuca cafes in Manhattan.
With a companywide staff of 80, Gullace had total revenue of $3 million in 2008 and expects that to climb to $5 million in 2009.
Whether he is butchering meat in a restaurant kitchen, picking out fresh produce at the Rochester Public Market or brainstorming menu ideas for an upcoming community fundraiser, Gullace describes himself as “one happy guy.”
“I love what I do,” says Gullace, who named his corporation in honor of 12-year-old godson Max Paroda, son of Gullace’s best friends, John and Michelle Paroda. “I’m one of the luckiest people in the world.”
Growing up here
Gullace grew up with his parents and two sisters next door to his grandparents’ farm in Victor, Ontario County.
“My grandfather could grow anything, whether it was an English walnut tree or asparagus,” he recalls.
His favorite childhood memories include baking Italian bread with his grandmother, watching his grandfather make wine and devouring sun-warmed tomatoes off the vine.
Gullace earned a bachelor of arts degree in history and political science from the University of Rochester in 1979. His initial plan was to become a lawyer. He quickly decided, though, that a suit-and-tie environment was not his calling. After working for one year at Craw Carting, his father’s trucking company, he followed his culinary instincts and became a chef at the Blacksmith Shop in Victor.
He opened the Water Street Grill next, then served as vice president of food and beverage for Hudson Hotels Corp. Later he worked for the Sands family as executive chef at the Inn on the Lake in Canandaigua.
In the late 1990s, he moved to Jupiter, Fla., and ran a high-end restaurant, 1352. Gullace loved the ability to bike everywhere, as well as his proximity to the ocean, but after three years he felt homesick for family and friends in Rochester and decided to return to his roots.
“Rochester is home for me,” says Gullace, who is divorced and lives in a loft apartment in the Cascade District, where he holds an annual Christmas Eve dinner for 40 of his relatives. “The food business has opened so many doors for me, and I’ve met so many interesting people by working in this field. Once food is in your blood, you’re forever addicted.”
When he got back from Florida in 2000, he worked as a contract chef for Victor Grilling Co., then ran the kitchen at Tonic for one year.
He opened Max at Eastman Place in 2002, Max Chophouse in 2006, Max Market in November 2008, Max at High Falls in May and Max at the Gallery in June.
He personally manages Max at Eastman Place and Max at High Falls. He has separate manager/chefs for the other three locations.
Max Market is a work in progress, he says. The holiday season was steady and the summer business is strong on Thursday and Friday nights when locals stock up on food for their coolers before heading to homes and cottages in the Finger Lakes.
“It’s a very niche-driven concept,” he says.
Its best sellers include fish flown in daily from Boston and Honolulu.
He expects the more than 65 percent revenue growth at Max Rochester to be driven by expansion in the event and catering ends of the business.
“Our biggest growth potential is in the area of catering,” he says.
He is in talks with a potential partner for further expansion in the events business, but he says it is too soon to reveal who that partner is. He also has applied for a liquor license for Max at the Gallery. When that comes through, he plans to be open a few evenings per week.
He also is working with Linda Summers from Nagel & Summers Inc., a marketing firm helping with the Max Rochester branding.
“Opportunities come across my desk on a regular basis. I get phone calls frequently from real estate developers, letting me know about available sites,” he says.
A passionate world traveler, Gullace owns a collection of nearly 800 cookbooks. Not surprisingly, his closest friends are foodies too.
“Tony and I met on the golf course 25 years ago and started talking about food right away,” says his closest buddy, John Paroda, president of Intercon Associates Inc. “I had an interest in cooking and was fascinated by how much he knew about food.”
Paroda’s one pet peeve about Gullace? “He always kept a secret or two. He’d never show me how to make the topping on creme brulee.”
Still, Gullace and the Paroda clan-wife Michelle, and sons Alex, 15, and Max, 12-are close.
“We cook together, and Tony does a ton of work for charity-all under the radar screen,” says John Paroda. “He hosts dinners, buys jackets and bags for my kids’ hockey teams, and much more. Tony is an extraordinary and charitable human being.”
James G. Vazzana also is a big Gullace fan. A close friend and Gullace’s attorney, Vazzana-managing partner for Wiedman Vazzana Corcoran & Volta P.C.-says his buddy has mastered the restaurant business.
But he overextends himself, Vazzana adds.
“Tony works too much. He never stops. He can be doing two restaurant deals while catering two charity events, and he does it all flawlessly,” Vazzana says. “Nobody works as hard as Tony.”
As one of Gullace’s executive chefs, Lucas Santiago-who presides over the kitchen at Max at the Gallery-sees his boss’s passion for the culinary business on a regular basis. The two have known each other since working together at Water Street Grill.
“I’ve learned so much from Tony,” Santiago says. “In formal kitchens, there are job titles and a strict chain of command. But in Tony’s kitchen, it was always more of a family environment, where everybody just pitched in wherever they were needed. Sure, he’d get a little testy at the beginning of the night when you’ve got 200 booked reservations and the first order comes in, but at the end of the night, Tony would thank everyone for a job well done.
“Deep down, Tony is a cute, cuddly teddy bear.”
The “teddy bear” loves nothing more than cuddling with Jean-Georges, his new Bichon Frise puppy, as well as playing golf, biking, reading trade periodicals and throwing parties in his loft.
Gullace, who catered Daniel and Stency Wegman’s wedding, is a champion of Rochester and a firm believer in the city’s potential.
“We have so many hidden gems in this town, from the Memorial Art Gallery and Eastman Theatre to Rochester Museum & Science Center and the Strong National Museum of Play,” he says. “It’s amazing what this town has to offer.”
Gullace routinely caters events for UR-including his own 30th reunion weekend-and refers to President Joel Seligman as a brilliant man.
And Gullace has never forgotten his Rochester roots and family ties.
Two of his aunts were merchandise buyers for Sibley’s Department Store, and Gullace lived in their servants’ quarters when he was fresh out of college.
“I remember they’d bring home delicious food from Sibley’s grocery department, and we’d all cook dinner together,” he says with a smile. “I’m a happy guy, blessed with great family and great friends.”
Title: Owner, Max Rochester
Residence: Cascade District, city of Rochester
Education: B.A., history and political science, University of Rochester, 1979
Hobbies: Travel, perusing cookbooks, biking, golfing
Quote: “My business is all about relationships. I’m just a little guy trying to carve out a niche.”
Debbie Waltzer is a Rochester-based freelance writer.
08/07/09 (C) Rochester Business Journal