Chef Maxcel Hardy feeds Detroit’s essential ...

Chef Maxcel Hardy feeds Detroit’s essential workers while teaching culinary arts

From community gardens to youth cooking classes, the Coop Detroit owner's commitment to food goes way beyond the restaurant.

Chef Maxcel Hardy. Courtesy photo.

Eating healthy is nearly impossible for Detroit families living in food deserts—neighborhoods populated with more fast-food restaurants than grocery stores. Seeing this happen in the neighborhood where he grew up is what inspired Detroit native Chef Maxcel Hardy, owner of restaurant COOP Detroit, to start the One Chef Can 86 Hunger foundation. 

Beyond providing meals to the homeless and low-income communities, the foundation also offers culinary classes to city youth.

Though it was started in Miami where Hardy was working in 2008, his heart has always been in Detroit, and he brought the organization back to his hometown in 2017.

“It means a lot for me to give back to my community and at the same teach culinary arts to city kids and give them some tangible life skills. We teach them about nutrition and also show people how to feed their families cost-effectively,” he said. “In chef terms, ’86’ means end, so our goal is to end hunger.”

When Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered the closure of restaurants due to COVID-19 in March of 2020, Hardy changed course.

With food that he couldn’t serve piled up at his restaurant COOP Detroit, he and his culinary students rallied together to donate it to essential workers and other nonprofit organizations. Since March, the foundation has donated about 1,000 meals a day to postal workers, poll workers, the Detroit Fire Department, the Detroit Rescue Mission and Alternatives for Girls.

Other local restaurants like Bangkok 96, Milano Bakery and Floods joined the initiative and have collectively donated around 100,000 meals or more.

Even after COOP Detroit, located in Detroit Shipping Co., reopened with takeout and outdoor dining options, Hardy, who was named HOUR Detroit’s Restaurateur of the Year for 2021, continued to donate food to essential workers and the community.

The foundation has recently purchased several vacant lots on the west side of Detroit near Grand River and Monte Vista that the chef plans on turning into community gardens this spring.

“You have to meet people where they’re at,” he said. “People don’t always have cars or access to public transportation to get to donation centers, so I want to do more mobile pantries and make healthy food accessible for everyone.”

Randiah Camille Green is a writer and poet who has written about travel, community, and culture from Detroit to Tokyo.