Several nights a week, you’ll find Max Sussman blasting out pizzas and salads from his Pizza Replicator pop-up, at places such as Roos Roast and the Ann Arbor Distilling Company.
The name draws its inspiration from Star Trek, where a machine called a replicator synthesizes meals on demand.
There’s nothing mechanical about his pizzas, however. The twelve-inch pies, big enough to share but small enough to justify polishing off at one sitting, have a chewy flavorful crust that Sussman credits to high-quality organic flour.
The dough develops for two and a half days, before Sussman shapes each pizza by hand. Since he regularly sells out of the seventy-five pies he makes per night, that might seem like enough success for a food entrepreneur.
But Sussman has another state of mind–a New York one, to be exact. He and his brother Eli recently opened a branch of Samesa, their chef-casual Middle Eastern restaurant, in Rockefeller Center.
Samesa, which began in Brooklyn, features dishes inspired by the Middle Eastern food that the Sussmans ate growing up around the Detroit area, but with gourmet twists, such as buttermilk-‘marinated chicken shawarma, kale fattoush salad, chickpea seitan, and homemade pickled vegetables.
Sussman got a bachelor’s in American culture at the U-M and cooked at Zingerman’s Deli and Jefferson Market as well as serving as chef de cuisine for Eve Aronoff Fernandez at Eve before deciding to pursue his career in New York City.
There, he worked at the Breslin, a ‘Michelin-starred restaurant, and was chef de cuisine at legendary pizza spot Roberta’s, not making pies but overseeing the rest of its food, which earned Roberta’s a two-star review in the New York Times.
Along with Samesa, the brothers also wrote three cookbooks in a series published by Williams-Sonoma.
Sussman, his wife, and their five-year-old son relocated to Ann Arbor early last year, just before the pandemic hit with full force. He says he’s enjoying the independence and experimentation that Pizza Replicator provides him.
“You can make the food you want to make. You don’t have to please every single person like you do in a restaurant,” he says. “It feels looser and more spontaneous.” He posts his current menu and locations on Instagram (@pizzareplicator).
And since he operates mostly on his own, “You don’t have to worry whether staff is going to come in or not”–a major consideration given the hiring crisis that restaurants everywhere face. Along with his regular pop-ups, he caters private pizza parties and dinners.
Sussman expects his dual identity to continue for at least a few more years, staying rooted here while making frequent FaceTime calls to his brother in the big city.
“With the pandemic, a lot of people reassessed their priorities,” he says.