Updated at 9:27 a.m., Friday, January 18, 2008
Honolulu restaurateur Michel Martin dies at 100
By Wanda A. Adams
Advertiser Food Editor
The 100-year-old, equally famed as a restaurateur and a raconteur, is said by his friends to have died of natural causes, having lived an exceptionally full life.
He was born in Nice, France, April 3, 1907, and moved to Hawai'i in his teens, working as a waiter. In recent years, he divided his time between his apartment in Waikiki and his home in Nice.
Martin founded his first Michel's restaurant in a tiny space in out-of-the-way Wahiawa during World War II and went on to own or part-own several other establishments, including The Patisserie, a wholesale and retail bakery.
The original Michel's operated from 1942 to 1959, when he moved to a space at the then-new Colony Surf Hotel in Waikiki. (It still bears his name, though he had long ago surrendered his interest in it.) After 11 years there, he opened a small bistro next to Canlis in Waikiki and later established the now defunct Chez Michel on Hobron Lane. He went into partnership with baker Rolf Winkler to found The Patisserie in 1969. He was named to the Hawai'i' Culinary Hall of Fame at Leeward Community College at a gala dinner he hosted in 2003.
His restaurants were a byword for fine dining and his name (and those of his guests) was perennially in the city's three-dot columns.
Honolulan Peter Fithian, who met Michel everyone knew the charming host by his first name more than 50 years ago when they were neighbors in Waikiki, said the distinguishing characteristic of a Michel's restaurant was the man's riveting presence and his high standards. "He had all the charm that Maurice Chevalier was famous for," recalled Fithian. But behind the sauve exterior was a firm worth ethic. "His motto was work."
Until shortly before his death, Martin could often be found at The Patisserie in Kahala, holding court at an outside table and being sure the restaurant lived up to his expectations.