Robert Entenmann, founder of Martha Clara, dies at 88

entenmann obit northforker

Many Long Island residents can recall sitting around a kitchen table surrounded by family and friends with a box of Entenmann’s baked goods as the centerpiece.

Or once they reached a certain age, popping open a bottle of wine from Martha Clara Vineyards around that same table.

Robert Entenmann, who died Thursday in Lauderdale by the Sea, Fla. at the age of 88, can be thanked in part for both those experiences. Mr. Entenmann was a longtime executive at Entenmann’s Bakery in Bay Shore before founding Martha Clara in Riverhead. 

“He got so much joy from being able to have another product that he knew was on tables at homes,” said Juan Micieli-Martinez, general manager and winemaker at Martha Clara Vineyards. “He was always about sharing something.”

Mr. Entenmann retired from the family business after it was sold in 1978. He purchased a Sound Avenue potato farm soon after and turned it into a farm to raise thoroughbred race horses, known as “Big E Farm.” In 1995, he planted 18 acres of vitis vinifera there, the first steps in creating Martha Clara Vineyards, which he named for his mother.

Roman Roth, president of the Long Island Wine Council and winemaker at Wölffer Estate Vineyard, worked for Mr. Entenmann from 1998 to 2002. He described his former boss as “a real pleasure to work for.”

“He had a good sense of humor, a dry sense of humor,” Mr. Roth said. “There was a quickness about him. He was a man of few words, you could say, but when he said something you listened.”

Mr. Micieli-Martinez, who has worked at Martha Clara since 2007, described the late founder as a visionary and a “great mentor.”

“[Mr. Entenmann] was someone that always kind of wanted to push the boundary a little bit,” he said. “He always wanted to do something better than it was done before.”

Mr. Micieli-Martinez said his favorite times with Mr. Entenmann were during the harvest each year, when the founder would walk between the vines early in the morning and sit on a particular bench right outside of the offices. Often, Mr. Micieli-Martinez would join Mr. Entenmann on the bench and talk, adding that most of their collaborative ideas happened while they were seated outside looking over the vines.

Having his friend around to share ideas and experiences is one of the things he’ll miss most about Mr. Entenmann, Mr. Micieli-Martinez said.

Mr. Micieli-Martinez and Mr. Roth both said Mr. Entenmann was very involved with the winery business, even once taking Mr. Roth on a trip to Oregon to visit other wineries.

He also preached the importance of the Wine Council saying his family business taught him how important it was for businesses to work together, Mr. Roth said.

In addition to his business ventures, Mr. Entenmann supported numerous charities.

“Giving back to the North Fork was really important to him, as evidenced by his support of institutions like Peconic Bay Medical Center,” his daughter, Jacqueline, said in an email. “He always made the Martha Clara grounds available for charitable events and gladly donated wine whenever he was asked to do so.”

Her father also loved spending time watching the horses at “Big E Farm,” which is next door to Martha Clara, and grabbing a meal with friends at the former Meeting House Creek Inn.

“When I think of my Dad, I will always remember the joy and serenity he found on his beloved Big E Farm,” Ms. Entenmann said.