I was just informed that someone I know, someone I hold dear, has passed away. It wasn’t unexpected, she had been ill for quite sometime. She fought, long and hard, defying time lines and expectations, showing strength in the face of tragedy.
In honor of her passing, I would like to dedicate this piece to her.
Marie Catrib, for those of you who don’t know her, was a Lebanese woman with a heart the size of her homeland. I don’t know her whole story, but what I do know warms my heart.
Marie ventured across Michigan, the U.P. (that is the upper peninsula), and North Carolina, following her passion for food and people as she went. As her career advanced, her son Fouad saw her potential and convinced her to move to Grand Rapids, where she opened the final installment of Marie Catrib’s Deli at 1001 Lake Dr. The door opened in the Fall of 2004 and she never looked back. Her food was incredible, yes, but her love of people and her community, made her an instant gem of the city.
Catrib was not without her fire. She demanded perfection and expected a great deal from her staff, but her fire came paired with great kindness and love. She treated all who entered her restaurant like family, walking through the crowds of people waiting to be seated passing out treats, sharing warm bits of conversation and hugs. Her smile was always bright and welcoming; she made the restaurant feel like home.
I have a deep connection to Marie and her restaurant. Drew and I used to visit there every Saturday. We would sit at the counter and talk to the staff, sharing in love and laughter. Even now I miss those moments.
Marie would go the extra mile for her regulars. She even went out of her way to help my my little brother. A few years ago Forrest was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. He was hardly able to eat because of all of his dietary restrictions. At the time he was receiving treatment once a week in Grand Rapids (where I was living at the time), and on his good days we would go to Maries for lunch after he received his treatment because it was one of the few places (besides my parents kitchen) where he could go eat. Once informed of all his allergies and restrictions Marie personally came to the table and made a point to see him, telling him she would work on inventing dishes he could eat, including gluten free, yeast free bread, so that he could “enjoy a sandwich as it should be”. What restaurant owner does that?!
Her great joy was not without great pain. Marie was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer sometime ago, she underwent surgery and chemo, but in the end all she wanted to do was be around her people, and do what filled her heart with delight: cook, pass out treats, and spend time with those she loved in the place she loved. Her life, though not perfect, was incredibly beautiful and fully lived.
Marie, you are an inspiration, and you will be greatly missed.