WEST DES MOINES, Iowa — This is the spring Maxie’s wasn’t supposed to see.
“This place was packed when they said they were closing,” says Anna Suttie, sitting in the darkened bar.
Fans flocked to its blank face on Grand Avenue one last time.
“There were customers that were flying in from Florida because this was where they celebrated their birthdays with grandma,” Suttie says. “That tells you something.”
But as closing time grew near, something happened.
Anna Suttie walked in.
“I walked in and it felt like home,” she said. “It had that old-school feel to it and that’s what I’ve always loved.”
Old school is something Maxie’s has in spades—only some of it intentional.
What it hasn’t had in far too long is a new owner with Suttie’s chops.
“Our family was always in the kitchen,” she says. “That’s where we congregated and it kind of always just felt like home. So I went to culinary school and realized I like talking to people, I like shaking hands, I like meeting everyone.”
She learned the trade under Bob Tursi at The Latin King, who himself had bought an old-school establishment and gave it new life.
“You do have to do it slowly,” Suttie explains. “Or you scare too many people away.”
Like The Latin King, which was founded by Jim Pigneri in 1947, Maxie’s can be traced back to Mike Colacino, another of Des Moines’ great Italian-American restaurateurs. He opened this location in the 1970s, back when West Des Moines only continued for another 20 blocks. Colacino’s original Maxie’s (named after his wife, Maxine) stood at the corner of Ingersoll and MLK Parkway.
The “new” Maxie’s, known originally as “Maxie’s West,” seems a bit frozen in that time, with aging awards still on the wall, and an ashtray still screwed to the bathroom wall (a wink at the old days).
It’s Suttie’s task to walk the fine line between updating and preserving.
“There are new lights going into the sign, there’s new carpet ordered, and we have roofers coming,” she says. “We’ve kind of scheduled for it all to happen so we’re just trying to bring her back to life.”
It’s a life that’s been on hold for too long–one that’s needed a new face to do its old ones justice.
And maybe this–Suttie’s–is it.
“It’s what I know,” she said. “It’s what I love.”