On Wednesday, November 11, we ambitiously set out to produce the biggest surprise in festival history when we announced the honoree of our annual Tribute Dinner, Mickey Bakst. To say our efforts were successful would be an understatement, and we could not have made this magical evening happen without the help of Mickey’s wife, Ellen, as well as a host of other co-conspirators, including Belmond Charleston Place, Baker Motor Company, Republic National Distributing Company, Ben Arnold Beverage Company, Southern Wine and Spirits, The Country Vintner of South Carolina, Grapevine Distributing, Advintage Distributing, PSAV, Hed Hi Media, Andrew Cebulka, Rick Rubel, Chef Michelle Weaver, Chef Mike Lata, Chef Takashi Yagahashi, Chef Michael Scognamiglio, Chef Ben Berryhill, Leo Horton, and all the many friends + family who traveled far and wide to be part of the celebration. Special thanks to Deidre Schipani for writing this lovely recap of an unforgettable 2015 Charleston Wine + Food Tribute Dinner.
The dinner raised $10,000 for Feed the Need, an organization founded by Mickey that brings local chefs together to help local shelters bring food to the hungry. These proceeds will be used to feed more than 1,500 mouths during the holiday season. Learn more about Feed the Need here.
Charleston Wine + Food honored Mickey Bakst, on November 11, for his contributions to the Charleston community and his global embrace of humans in need.
Gillian Zettler, Executive Director of Charleston Wine + Food, welcomed the guests and rejoiced in the ability to manage surprising the guest of honor – no easy feat.
The “FOM” – Friends of Mickey – travelled great distances and shared more than a half-century of memories about a man who it was clear was no Albert Schweitzer in his formative years but like the phoenix rose from the ashes to embrace the ethical character and energy that defines a humanitarian.
High school friends Phil Katz, Hal Schwartz, Mike Solarz and Randy Fenton parlayed their shared memories of their friend, a diamond in the rough, who while operating an “ice cream truck”, brought new meaning to the brand “good humor”.
Mickey’s prowess as both a critical reviewer and sports analyst was made clear by his engaging book report on Sandy Koufax – an assignment that made it from elementary school to high school!
Mickey Bakst and the Merry Pranksters of his youth, at times, travelled dark roads of misbehavior and wretched excess.
Yet these spidermen of Mickey’s youth all recall the integrity, loyalty and love they shared in common. Each a mitzvah: A blessing to the other. All spinning a web of support and lifelines for their friend.
It was in 1974, as the doorman at the Studio Café in Newport Beach California, that Mickey got a glimpse into his future: Holding back the lengthy line to enter into this popular club (by singing, dancing, joking) – he brought smiles to their faces and realized he had the ability to be the gatekeeper to happiness.
This seemingly native ability, shining a light on a smile, is a skill Mickey attributes to his parents – “they gave me this gift”.
It is one whose heartfelt authenticity everyone and anyone who meets Mickey Bakst experiences.
It was the hospitality industry that eased Mickey into a new way of being. It was an act of grace in which the warm and welcoming embrace of a smile polished the diamond that is MB.
From Sam at Mario’s in Detroit, to Pete Peterson at Tapawingo, to Takashi Yagihashi at Tribute and Slurping Turtle, Mickey Bakst was being recast.
With friend of 30 years Ronnie Schwartz and the structure of Alcoholics Anonymous, a cycle was broken and Mickey’s heightened awareness of his skill to make people feel good was broadcast on the waters of food and beverage.
In 1995, humanitarian Mickey Bakst was birthed, by a devastating fire at the Society of St. Vincent de Paul warehouses where a fire destroyed 150,000 square feet of space containing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of goods for southeast Michigan’s needy. Before the fire was extinguished, Mickey had organized a relief effort that raised nearly $10 million dollars to continue the work of the Society.
September 11, Hurricane Katrina, the Charleston Sofa Super Store fire tragedy and the massacre at Mother Emanuel AME Church this summer: heartbreaking human events that triggered the immediate responses of support and generosity by the network of like-minded community activists that Mickey Bakst has cultivated.
One that supported Crisis Ministries (now One80 Place) to create Feed The Need of which Mickey is president and Teach The Need, co-founded with Michael Miller to provide training and employment opportunities in food and beverage.
Mickey Bakst is our smiling Ambassador of Goodness.
A chef’s dinner with Bob Waggoner resulted in Mickey’s move as General Manager to Charleston Grill. Here he began his partnership with Executive Chef Michelle Weaver and the two of them glide in culinary harmony to provide the hospitality dance for their guests. It was with a grateful heart that Weaver and Bakst gave thanks this night for their shared vision.
For local chefs: Mike Lata, Ben Berryhill, and Michael Scognamiglio – there were no fist bumps, high fives, daps or pounds but the warm embrace of a righteous hug and the loyalty and shared affection for a man they easily say, “I love you, Mickey.”
The staff of the Charleston Wine + Food were accomplished at crafting this surprise tribute dinner but the maestro behind it all was Ellen Gansen, Mickey’s beloved wife, muse, anchor, caretaker of joy and master chef. Their affection for each other is humbling and the power of their love remains palpable as they expressed their gratitude for the evening.
Gillian Zettler brought this tribute dinner to a close encouraging all of the guests to take a bit of this shared goodness with them and share it in their daily lives: “Mickey’s power to inspire” – a gift that keeps on giving.
Written by Deidre Schipani
Photos by Andrew Cebulka
Film by Hed Hi Media