A few days ago, my husband came into the kitchen, where I was busily making dinner. He informed that our local newscast had announced that Marie Catrib had died. She was 65 and had had ovarian cancer.
I was instantly saddened even though it had been over a year since I had last been to her restaurant in Grand Rapids. The last time we tried to go there, there was too long a wait for lunch, and so we went elsewhere. That is how it often was at Marie Catrib's, and it was completely understandable, for she was an extremely talented chef and one of the warmest, friendliest people one could hope to meet.
We first met Marie Catrib in the mid-1980's, up in Houghton, MI. I had a sister who was teaching at Michigan Tech then and she would take us to Marie's Deli there. It always was a bit of a struggle to try to decide what to order off of the menu. Whether it be French toast from the breakfast menu or a Lebanese specialty for lunch (Marie was from Lebanon), you couldn't go wrong.
My sister left Michigan Tech after a few years to return to our native southeastern MI. My husband and I continued to make vacation treks up to the Houghton area, and a trip to Marie's Deli was one of the stops we always looked forward to. And even though Marie only saw us once a year, she seemed to remember us and would greet us as long-lost friends. I know she was like that with all her customers though!
Then came the time we went to her restaurant, only to learn she wasn't running it anymore. Her assistant was now in charge; Marie had decided to go off to culinary arts school. Although the menu still had Marie's signature dishes, we missed her friendliness and cheer.
We figured we would never see her again and that was that. But then in 2005 - or maybe 2006 - I happened to be reading through the latest edition of On The Town, a free monthly publication of happenings in and around Grand Rapids, MI. And with astonishment and delight, I saw a review for a new restaurant in Grand Rapids - Marie Catrib had opened it with her adult son.
Shortly thereafter we went to the new restaurant and it was like seeing an old friend again. Although there were some new menu items, there were many of the old favorites from her Houghton eatery as well. And there was Marie, with a bit more gray in her hair, but as friendly and welcoming as ever. She said she remembered us from our visits to her place in Houghton - who knows if she really did? After all, it would have been over 10 years since we'd last seen her. But it didn't matter - we were glad to see her again and eat more of her excellent cooking.
Marie Catrib's was popular from the day it opened, so it didn't surprise us that she soon expanded into the space next door to the restaurant, but that didn't seem to help much - it was still as crowded as ever on the Saturdays when we would stop in. We would brave the wait if we weren't too hungry or if we didn't have to be somewhere else in awhile. I always envied people who lived or worked much closer to the restaurant, for there were probably off-peak times when it wasn't so hectic there.
And now I'm sorry that we didn't wait in line to be seated the day last year when we wanted to eat lunch. Marie's sons will be carrying on with the restaurant, so we are glad of that. I know they will carry on admirably, but I will miss Marie.
An article about Marie can be found here.