Thomas Sorensen

Jo McGarry photo

Owner, Honolulu
Design Center/Stage
Restaurant/Amuse Wine Bar

Where were you born and raised? I was born in Randers, Denmark. I came to the U.S. as an exchange student when I was 21.

Many people dream of opening a restaurant. Did you? (Laughs) Well, not really! The first concept of the Design Center did have a restaurant and I always thought it would be fun, but I wouldn’t say it was a dream. It’s a challenge.

I imagine many people were skeptical of the idea of a restaurant and a wine bar within a furniture store, but it works incredibly well. Yes. It works because there’s so much activity. Look around here and there’s always activity, whether it’s downstairs in the café or in the wine bar, the restaurant or the Cupola Theater. There’s always so much going on here. When our peers from the Mainland come over and tour the store, they are amazed by all the activity.

Did you grow up around good food? No, not at all. I grew up pretty poor. There were six kids in our family, and it was a very humble upbringing. We never, ever went to a restaurant.

I’m imagining with six children your mom stayed home and cooked. Yes, my mom always cooked. And my dad worked in a pig slaughterhouse, so while we were quite poor, we always had meat. I remember lots of pork dishes.

Some of your favorite comfort foods? Pork meatballs and a number of Danish comfort foods. My mom passed away a year ago, and I used to ask her to make me the same dishes, but she would always say, “Thomas, I can’t cook this for you. It’s too cheap.” I still crave her dish of liver roasted with onions.

Do you cook? No, not really. But now when I see my sisters I always ask if they can make the same food my mom used to make.

Favorite Honolulu restaurants? I like Bernini, it’s good and consistent. And we go to lots of ethnic restaurants. We love exploring Kapahulu and Waialae Avenue, and the restaurants close to our home.

What’s always in your fridge? There’s always lots of fruits and vegetables. I’m in training for Ironman, so am a little fanatical (smiles).

What do you recommend from the Stage menu to first-time customers?

At lunch, our chef does an incredible pan-seared bubuarare-crusted king salmon salad that’s so good. And our pastry chef makes wonderful dessert – and house-made ice cream. You have to try our ice cream.

Do customers ever visit Stage or Amuse and end up with a larger purchase than they imagined when they made a dinner reservation? (laughs) Some nights people do claim they have an extra glass of wine and end up with a sofa – but they always seem happy about it.