COURTSEY HEIDI'S BREAD BASKET
After more than three decades in the restaurant business, Micki Mortensen is looking for someone to take over her downtown bistro and catering business.
Restaurateur readies for retirement
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Heidi's Bread Basket Inc. owner Ilse "Micki" Mortensen is ready to retire after some 36 years in the restaurant business.
"I'm tired and I'm old," she said.
Heidi's Downtown Bistro & Deli in Pacific Guardian Center, Heidi's Deli at Pioneer Plaza and Heidi's Catering, have loyal customers and long-time employees who would benefit from expansion, she said.
Axel and Micki Mortensen started the business in 1972, naming it Heidi's after their first-born daughter. It was then a retail and wholesale bakery in Moiliili, where Chiang Mai Thai Cuisine is now.
It morphed into a restaurant and its now-closed Bishop Square location became the first spot in Honolulu where sandwiches were made fresh in front of customers according to their specifications, Mortensen said.
The business was a dream of Axel's, who died in 1997. Micki has kept the dream alive, but looks forward to handing over the reins.
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Honolulu's original sandwich artist is ready to hang up her apron
Micki Mortensen doesn't have time to write the book people are hounding her to write.
She is too busy tending to her business of 36 years, Heidi's Bread Basket Inc., to ascribe her storied life to paper or computer screen.
The former ballroom dancer and instructor, finishing school operator and instructor and restaurateur is ready to retire.
She wants someone smart to take Heidi's Downtown Bistro & Deli, Heidi's Deli and Heidi's Catering onward and upward.
"I'm looking high and low for somebody to take over," she said. "I'm tired and I'm old."
How old? One dasn't ask a former finishing school instructor such a question.
Suffice it to say, had she been working for someone else she could have retired nearly a decade ago.
It should be explained that her legal name is Ilse; those close to her call her Micki and many people think her name is Heidi, because of the brand she has built.
"Yeah, I'm Heidi," she'll say, to keep things simple, but it is actually her first-born daughter's name.
Before there was Heidi's, Axel and Micki Mortensen were ballroom dance instructors for Arthur Murray who went on to operate a chain of finishing schools on the mainland and in Canada with Gipsy Norton, who went on to become a well-known modeling instructor on her own.
Axel "was an adventurer," and a big-idea guy envisioned a German-style bakery in Hawaii. He knew nothing about baking, Micki said.
Nevertheless, Heidi's started out in 1972, with a German baker, as a retail and wholesale bakery in the Moiliili building that now houses Chiang Mai Thai Cuisine. It did wholesale and retail business selling European-style breads and pastries.
Before there was a Subway sandwich shop in the Sandwich Isles, the Mortensens opened Heidi's at Bishop Square, the first restaurant where fresh sandwiches were made in front of the customer, she said. Freshly made quiche, other entrees, soups and salads also made the place a favorite.
Axel died in 1997, but Heidi's has gone on with Micki at the helm and is now a trio of businesses that, well, feed and feed off of each other.
Heidi's Downtown Bistro & Deli, a sit-down restaurant, serves as a hub for the Heidi's Deli at Pioneer Plaza, a take-out operation, as well as Heidi's Catering.
Prep work is done at the bistro, which supplies the catering operation and the deli and could supply additional locations, Mortensen said.
Heidi's caters islandwide, and has a list of 1,300 mostly corporate clients. It has served 1,000 people aboard the Star of Honolulu and fed small wedding parties.
It has catered breakfast, lunch and all-day meetings, after-hours receptions and more, with anything and everything on Heidi's menu.
The staff, some going back more than 20 years, will gather early in the morning or on weekends to prepare however many catering trays are needed.
"The staff will come in from all parts of the island to complete the order," said office manager Susan Tollinger, who has been with Heidi's for nearly 15 years. "If it takes 10 people, then by George 10 people come, pitching in where needed, and get the job done ... they have some good times, though."
Employers and employees with long histories tend to develop a sense of family.
"They are treated with respect by the owner and vice versa," Tollinger said. "I think there's almost more of a family thing than a business relationship in some ways, but they all know that the business comes first."
Mortensen is "really looking forward to it going on and on and I hope for her sake, that it will," she said.
The now-closed Bishop Square location was a regular hang for long-time Honolulu Mayor Frank Fasi and his lieutenants.
Back in your columnist's radio days, it was where the station could find Hizzoner for an early morning interview before he got to the office.
Years earlier it was radio that put Heidi's on the map, when the late Ed Michelman "put a microphone in my face," Mortensen said. "He was my guardian angel."
Michelman's radio story led to TV coverage by Linda Coble, then newspaper and magazine stories -- and Mortensen has kept the yellowed clips in treasured scrapbooks and mounted some on the walls.
She has had offers on one piece of the business or another, but it is an enmeshed entity she believes will benefit from expansion.
"I want someone to take what I have created and go," she said. "That's what I want."
is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin. Call 529-4747, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210, Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org