Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Remembering Michael Holahan

Mike and Julie with William, James and Isabella
Mike Holahan's death last week, at age 57, leaves a void for his family – his partner in life and business Julie, daughter Isabella and sons William and James – as well as shoppers and fellow merchants at the Reading Terminal Market, and the Philadelphia food community.

I won't repeat the facts of Michael's life, including how he started the Pennsylvania General Store and his leadership of the Reading Terminal Market Merchant Association. You can read them in his Philadelphia Inquirer obituary and at the funeral home's website.

Instead, I'll simply recount two parts of his life (with some video help): one I only learned about after his death, the other one I lived with him.

What I didn't know was how committed Michael was to his church and religion. But I should have, for it was an extension of his love for his family. I learned of this when, seeking directions to attend his funeral, I visited the website of Michael's church, Gloria Dei, and found among the list of sermon videos one Michael delivered on March 13, just three days before he died. It shows the side Michael I knew -- funny, friendly, thoughtful and lightly showing his knowledge of food production -- and the side of Michael that I didn't know, committed to making a better world through his faith. This 20-minute video captures the man:


Another Michael is the one I first met more than 25 years ago, a man passionate about food and the people who bring it to our tables. This was when he started the Saturday Morning Breakfast Club, a gathering of foodies on that day which attracted anywhere from a half-dozen to three dozen participants.

Our topics were wide ranging, and frequently featured guest speakers, both merchants and outside experts.

One of the more memorable sessions was for Valentine's Day. Mike had arranged for the pastry chef from Deux Cheminées to discuss how to make chocolate truffles. Unfortunately the pastry chef had emergency dental surgery, so the restaurant's proprietor, Fritz Blank took his place, bringing along a friend who was attending the Philadelphia national convention of the Association of American Scientists, who Fritz knew through his former career as a microbiologist. The friend was Harold McGee, the author of On Food and Cooking. McGee brought along samples of cocoa beans both fresh and in various stages of processing and explained the science of making chocolate. So as not to disappoint the many ladies who attending in hopes of making truffles, Fritz gave them the recipe.

The Saturday Morning Breakfast Club also served as an introduction to the people of the market, including its managers (Marci Rogovin when the club started, then Paul Steinke when he came on board), and merchants. Ann Karlen stopped by to talk about the Fair Food Farmstand before it opened. Luminaries from the Philadelphia food community also visited to share their stories and expertise, including Jack Asher of Asher's Chocolates (Mike sold a food invention of his, Keystone Crunch, to Asher). Indeed, the regional history of chocolate manufacture was one of Mike's passions: you can read an earlier entry on this blog about a talk he gave on the subject here.

I don't have any video of our sessions at the Saturday Morning Breakfast Club, but when Mike was president of the Reading Terminal Market Merchants Association they briefly put together series called "Cooking IQ". Here's one where Mike interviews Tom Nicolosi of DiNic's on how he cooks his meat, and shows the inquisitive foodie that was Michael:



1 comment:

Jack Eppert said...

This is a wonderful tribute to Michael and we at Gloria Dei Church will miss him. I'm not sure where the information about the church's web site being changed came from but Michael's and many other messages are still available on our site www.gloriadei.com

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