Family-Driven Flavors: Max’s Bistro & Bar brings eclectic dishes to Chippewa

Samantha Kobs, photos by Andrea Paulseth

FOLD IN THE FABULOUS FLAVOR. Max’s Bistro in downtown Chippewa Falls features a menu inspired by coastal Mexican cuisine.
FOLD IN THE FABULOUS FLAVOR. Max’s Bistro in downtown Chippewa Falls features a menu inspired by coastal Mexican cuisine.

Some 2,400 miles southwest of here, one will find the city of Ixtapa, Mexico. Imagine beautiful beaches surrounded by mountains. It’s the kind of place that most of us wish we were living in right about this time of year, and it was here that Chippewa Valley residents Max and Maria Rivera started their family.

“We all do our duties. We all do our tasks. We all have that same common goal – you know, to keep the dream going.” – Hugo Rivera, Max’s Bistro & Bar

For nearly two decades, Max supported his wife and children by working as a chef at a high-end resort, learning tableside techniques and developing his own palate. Despite the beauty of Ixtapa and obvious climate perks (i.e. never needing to scrape one’s windshield free of ice), he eventually packed up his family and relocated to San Diego, California where there were more career opportunities (and, according to the family, to chase that good ol’ American dream). He did that for many more years before eventually moving to – you guessed it – the Midwest. With his coastal Mexican influences in tow, Max Rivera and his family said hello to their new home in Western Wisconsin.

Though working for other people gave Max a substantial amount of experience, he wasn’t exactly “living his best life.” For years, the family had discussed opening their own business. After much deliberation, Max and Maria decided to give it a shot. With the help of their four children and daughter-in-law, they launched Max’s Bistro & Bar in downtown Chippewa Falls, a high-end Mexican steak and seafood eatery.

I was given the opportunity to sit down with three of Max and Maria’s four children – son Hugo and daughters Amayrani and Nelly – to chat about their experiences so far. The way it all works is that Max is “the brains of the menu” and basically keeps the entire kitchen operating. Maria is the sous chef and sole creator of delicacies such as the signature sauces or the flan. Their children do just about everything else, from front-of-house managing to serving to marketing. Together, everybody pulls their own weight and helps out wherever help is needed. A true family business.

“We all do our duties. We all do our tasks. We all have that same common goal – you know, to keep the dream going,” Hugo said.

For the Riveras, the opening of the business was monumental. “This is exactly what (Max) wanted,” their daughter Amayrani, said. “It’s his dream. He helped other people follow their dreams, and now it’s his turn.

The past few months has been dedicated to putting down the groundwork for the business. The family started by repainting the restaurant, playing everyone’s favorite music while they worked from morning to night. “We’d have a lot of people peeking in the windows and asking when we were opening,” Amayrani said of the family’s scramble to officially flip on that neon sign.

Hugo would be the first to admit that the Riveras may have felt a bit rushed at the time they opened. “We weren’t really ready – we didn’t have our equipment yet … But we were just so excited to open because people were so curious.”

Despite a few uncertainties before that first shift, things went quite well and business has been operating smoothly since, perhaps due in part to the fact that the Rivera family is all in this together. According to them, the key to a successful small business is lots and lots of communication.

At the end of the night when everyone’s shifts are over, the Riveras sit down and eat and talk about the day, and how to improve everything.

“We’re still learning. We’re taking it day by day,” Nelly said. “I don’t think we would be able to do it if we weren’t a family... We grew up together. Family is just really important to our culture.”

Foods and drinks are all made from scratch using Maria’s secret recipes. The dinner menu includes dishes such as ceviche, New York Strip surf and turf, and a swordfish steak with lemon butter caper sauce (one of Maria’s inventions). It’s the perfect place for a date night, celebration dinner, or a quick Margarita pit stop after work (because stress).

The Riveras are looking forward to connecting with the community through their new business, but what they’ve enjoyed most is the joy that the business has brought to its two owners. “You see how passionate our dad and our mom are about their food,” Amayrani said. “We’re just glad we can help share it with everyone else – help them share it with everyone else. My dad gets so excited to put his dishes out in the windows. It’s been an amazing experience to see them – to see how happy they are."

Max’s Bistro & Bar is now open at 213 N. Bridge St. in Chippewa Falls, open Sunday through Thursday from 11am-9pm and Friday through Saturday from 11am-10pm.