Max-imum profit for perseverance

STILL buzzing after all these months - and what a few action-packed months they've been over at China Max.

First the euphoria of the opening, followed not too long after by the boardroom revolt that resulted in what came to be known as the 'night of the long kitchen knives'.

But through it all managing director Max Schnallinger's faith in his Asian bistro concept never wavered.

The result? China Max is the success story of the Food Forum at Times Square, neatly straddling the ethnic and social divide. Captains of industry go there when swapping suits for jeans, while restaurateurs drop by when looking for a dining experience out of the ordinary.

In the midst of it all is the commanding presence of Schnallinger - unmistakable in the Chinoiserie chic designs of his partner Debbie Johnson (now importing the clothes to other parts of Asia) - still smiling, with not a worry line creasing his face.

'What's happened is behind us now,' said Schnallinger, 'and both Debbie and I have put it down to experience. We think we've learned a lot about ourselves and the business through what happened.

'But the most important thing is that the restaurant continued to prosper and our clients didn't suffer.' Having come through it, Schnallinger has no intention of being complacent. When Keeping Posted looked in at the weekend - with even standing room at a premium - Schnallinger insisted on introducing us to John Clark, the innovative chef he has imported from the Zuni Restaurant, a culinary institution in San Francisco, to introduce an autumn menu.

Schnallinger struck lucky on another front, too. Desperately needing a new general manager after the incumbent gave in her notice to take up motherhood, he was sitting by the bar contemplating matters when in walked a customer he had employed as a restaurant manager in a hotel he managed in Dallas 20 years back.

A glass or two of wine and an hour or so of misty-eyed reminiscences later, Ingrid Von Wilke Zachbauer was shaking on a deal to be manager at China Max.

Enthused Schnallinger about his new recruit: 'We were a great team then and we'll be an even greater team now.'