Last night was the final service for Saved By The Max in Chicago, as Wicker Park’s Saved By The Bell pop-up has closed. The pop-culture pop-up lasted exactly a year and now the team is taking their talents to Los Angeles. Management isn’t ready to divulge their new West Coast location or when tickets will go on sale, but Saved by the Max will take over an existing restaurant.
“Our whole idea in putting this together was a nostalgia overload,” co-founder Derek Berry said. “I hope we nailed it.”
Berry measured interest for the pop-up back in February 2016 by creating a Facebook event page that soon was slammed with fans of the 1990s NBC sit-com starring Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Tiffani Thiessen, and Mario Lopez. He quickly shopped the idea to NBC execs who approved the idea and then went forth in creating a carbon-copy of the show’s set.
The Max team also enlisted some of the show’s actors to help generate buzz: Ed Alonzo has appeared on social media videos and was at The Max in June 2016 for the opening. He was amazed at how faithful the restaurant was to the TV show and even said it was better than his old workplace. Unlike the TV set, the pop-up had boozy drinks.
Berry and Co. brought Alonzo back to make the L.A. announcement.
Berry worked with Zack Eastman—who runs the East Room, a late-night bar in Logan Square—and Steve Harris—a long-time bar owner whose establishments include Debonair Social Club, around the corner from The Max. Harris had the space for the pop-up, the former Geek Bar/Storefront Company.
One of their earliest moves was to secure a talented chef. They brought on Brian Fisher, who worked at Michelin-starred Schwa. He quickly brought cred to the kitchen. Fisher, who currently is cooking in Lakeview at Entente, developed an elevated diner menu of burgers, Korean chicken and waffles, and macaroni and cheese. The team then came up with names that tied back to the TV show like “A.C. Sliders.”
Fans dressed up as their favorite Saved By The Bell characters routinely stood in line along North Avenue. Besides Alonzo, other guest appearances included Lopez, Dennis Haskins (principal Richard Belding), and show creator Peter Engel. The renewed interest may be responsible for the upcoming musical, Saved. The Max’s wait lists were so large that the pop-up began using Tock, a reservation system often used by fine-dining restaurants. They plan to continue to use Tock for the Max’s next incarnation.
Bringing the diner to L.A., near NBC headquarters, has the potential to push The Max to the next level. The Chicago crew is looking to partner with operators in California and will fly back and forth to ensure everything is up to their standards.
So what will happen with the Chicago space? “It won’t be the Peach Pit,” Eastman said, referring to the TV diner from Beverly Hills, 90210.
There are plans in place, but The Max team isn’t ready to make an official announcement. Expect news in one or two weeks. Chicagoans should be surprised, and if it’s anything like The Max, they will be so excited.