On a typical day, one can find chef Max Wertheim behind the counter of the Alphabetical Comfort Kitchen & Food Truck at Budd Dairy Co. Food Hall, a Cameron Mitchell Restaurants chef-driven incubator with eight unique kitchens and revolving pop-ups, in Columbus.
The stall, which opened April 2021 with the food hall, has been in operation for about six years. Wertheim, who lives near Columbus’ South Side, has been involved for “four or five years,” and works as executive chef and general manager alongside owner Jordan Lamatrice.
“I wear a lot of hats because we’re a smaller operation,” Wertheim, 33, said. “I handle all of the day-to-day activity in the restaurant. I make all of the recipes, food ordering and all of the cleaning.”
Now a year into their residency at Budd Dairy Co. Food Hall, Wertheim categorized the experience as “crazy” for multiple reasons – the biggest of which was opening a brick-and-mortar location for the food truck amid a global pandemic.
“I expected growing from a food truck into a closer version of a brick and mortar with regular service hours,” he said. “I knew it was going to be crazy the first few months to a year but you can never truly be prepared for opening a restaurant.”
Wertheim, who has been cooking since he was 13 years old, first professionally got involved in food service at a local pool near his childhood home in University Heights, a suburb of Cleveland. He also spent time at an ice cream shop and a Chipotle, but found himself cooking a lot at home since his parents worked full time.
“As soon as I was old enough to use the stove and knives, I cooked,” he recalled. “My parents would leave instructions because they wouldn’t come home until 6 pm, so if I wanted to eat on time, I cooked for myself. Slowly, I asked for fewer and fewer instructions.”
Following graduation from Cleveland Heights High School, Wertheim spent a year in Israel and started school at The Ohio State University in Columbus in 2008. After moving for school, he never left Columbus.
“I tried my hand at a few different majors, including hospitality management,” he said. “It just wasn’t a perfect fit for me and I just wasn’t interested in the school work. I was more interested in being in the kitchen, so I transferred to Columbus State University’s culinary program.”
While at Ohio State, he worked at the campus Hillel within its kosher cafe and catering service.
“We arranged all types of events, from Reform to way more religious,” he said. “We catered Chabad events, stuff at Congregation Torat Emet (in Bexley), Congregation Ahavas Sholom (in Bexley) and other synagogues in Columbus. That was really where I did most of my learning. I worked there for a long time. I then got the chance to run a small cafe, so we did bagels and breakfast in the morning, burgers, chicken tenders, falafel at night and a catering company, in addition to feeding most of the Jewish kids on campus every Friday night for Shabbat .”
All of those experiences add up to a chef who loves what he does – making delicious food and serving people, Wertheim said.
“My favorite part sounds sily because I am a chef, but the cooking is my favorite part,” he said. “As you move deeper in the cooking world and advance yourself, you find yourself spending less and less time in the kitchen. But, the creativity that comes with cooking, creating recipes – and feeding a ton of people. There is something about it that if I can feed 200 people a day, I know they had something good to eat.”