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Mickey Bakst

Ben's Friends
Co-Founder and Executive Director
Maître D, foodie, fundraiser, philanthropist, career restaurateur, mentor, and Charleston ambassador –these are just a few titles bestowed upon Mickey Bakst. Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, Mickey became interested in the hospitality industry after helping a friend check IDs at a restaurant in Newport Beach, California. By the end of his first shift, he knew that the industry–where he could focus his energy on hospitality and making people smile –was where he belonged. Mickey’s earlier career included time at Studio Café in Newport Beach; at Tapawingo, Pete and Mickey’s, and Tribute Restaurant in Michigan; and most recently and notably, at Charleston Grill in Charleston, South Carolina.

As General Manager of Charleston Grill at Belmond Charleston Place from 2004–2020, he played an essential role in helping the restaurant become one of the most acclaimed fine dining destinations in the nation. Mickey’s passions extend far beyond the dining room. In 2016, he and fellow restaurateur Steve Palmer founded Ben’s Friends, a support group for members of the food and beverage industry battling substance abuse and addiction. The mission of Ben’s Friends is to offer hope, fellowship, and a path forward to anyone who struggles with substance abuse and addiction. The organization is named in honor of Ben Murray, a chef who took his own life in 2016 after struggling with alcoholism. With decades of sobriety under his belt, Mickey believes that there are countless members of the restaurant industry in need of help combating the effects of alcohol and drugs.

Since announcing his departure from Charleston Grill in early 2020, Mickey has dedicated himself to Ben’s Friends and, in his new role as Executive Director, is focused on spreading the word about Ben’s Friends to existing and emerging chapters across the country. Ben’s Friends is not Mickey’s first foray into charitable efforts. In 2009, he founded Charleston Chefs Feed the Need in response to the stress put on area homeless services as a result of the economic downturn. To date, Feed the Need has served more than 500,000 meals in three cities and donated nearly $2 million to those in need. For the last five years, Feed the Need has underwritten the annual Christmas lunch for 2,000 people at Tricounty Family Ministries in Charleston. And, with the support and generosity of partners including Belmond Charleston Place, The Cedar Room, and the Charleston-area food and beverage community, the annual fundraising event, Dining for a Cause, raised a record-breaking $586,000 in 2019.In 2014, Mickey created Teach the Need, an organization committed to training at-risk teenagers in the skills needed to work in the front of the house in Charleston restaurants.

Today, hundreds of students have gone through the course, and many of them are currently working in the industry. Mickey credits his charitable success to longtime support from the team at Belmond Charleston Place and also to the city’s close-knit food and beverage community. His philosophy, “When you can, you should,” has led him to serving, supporting, and impacting the lives of people everywhere he goes. Mickey lives in Charleston and enjoys traveling with his wife, helping others in any way he can, and spending time at home.