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Marie Catrib, founder of the popular East Hills restaurant of the same name, passed away just over a year ago, on June 5, 2013. Since then, her son Fouad Catrib has been the sole owner of the restaurant and has worked to uphold his mother's legacy.
Marie Catrib's opened at its current location, 1001 Lake Drive SE, in 2004. The restaurant's menu derives inspiration from Marie's Lebanese heritage, the many years she spent in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and her love of unique pastries. It also offers a variety of vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options.
It was Fouad Catrib who originally convinced his mother to make the move to Grand Rapids. She had lived and worked in numerous locations including Green Bay, Wisconsin, Montpellier, Vermont, Asheville, North Carolina and Houghton, Michigan, where she owned a restaurant for roughly 20 years. But according to her son, Grand Rapids was the community with which she ultimately felt the strongest kinship.
“It was really such a good fit for us,” he says. “My mother said that she'd never felt more at home anywhere than here in Grand Rapids. I'm so glad that she was able to come here.”
Fouad Catrib himself had been living in Grand Rapids for around seven years when his mother decided to start a restaurant here. He says he was inspired by the work Guy Bazzani was doing in the area at the time, and though he and his mother met with multiple developers, it was Bazzani whom they entrusted with the design and construction of their future restaurant.
“My mom was living in Green Bay the year that the building was under construction,” he says. “So I was coming here every day, making sure that everything was going as planned and getting really excited about it.”
According to Fouad Catrib, he knew for a long time that he wanted to work alongside his mother. He grew up watching her manage her restaurant in Houghton, called Marie's Deli. He laughs when he recalls his workplace behavior, saying, “I was an unruly child, so I would work at the restaurant but I would work on my own terms.”
Although Catrib believes it's important to acknowledge that he is not the same person as his mother, and it would be wrong to try to imitate her, he does say that he tries to keep her wishes for the restaurant in mind.
“I know it's very important that she left me a huge legacy,” he says. “That's an amazing thing. You couldn't ask for more in your life. And I guess I'm just trying to make sure that my mother would be proud of how I'm running the business.”
But continuing the legacy Marie Catrib left behind and determining what she would have wanted is not always easy.
“I haven't been able to find my mom,” he says. “I don't know where she's at, and I keep looking for some sign of her. But what I've realized is that a lot of the decisions that I make regarding the restaurant are decisions that she would make.”
Catrib's approach to running the restaurant, which he calls "a huge learning experience," is extremely hands-on. He often makes his mother's recipes and spends time in the dining room checking on guests, but he also makes himself available whenever extra help might be needed. He regularly tackles odd jobs like washing sheet pans, cleaning the pavement outside the doors, checking the rain garden for garbage and making sure the dumpster area is clean.
Marie Catrib's employees Zach Rickel and Tim Holstad, who have both been working at the restaurant for about two years, say they have a positive relationship with their boss and appreciate the workplace culture he has cultivated.
“There's a really good family environment,” says Rickel. “It sounds cheesy and cliché, but we work with our friends, and that makes it easy to come to work every day.”
Catrib doesn't want to make big changes to the restaurant too quickly, but he does have a few goals he hopes to accomplish—among them, improving the small kitchen workspace and obtaining more high-quality products. He cites as an example Ortiz Tuna, which he hopes to adopt to replace the current brand of tuna the restaurant uses.
“I'm just trying to make sure that we're putting out the best food possible, which is part of trying to keep my mother's spirit alive,” Catrib says. “And I think a lot of the staff feel that vibe when they come in to work, still—the feeling that my mother is here.”
He says that he feels a deep sense of gratitude towards the community that has never wavered in its support over the near-decade Marie Catrib's has been in business.
“The community means so much to me, it really does,” he says. “A lot of really wonderful people seem to find their way in here. I want to thank everybody for continuing my mother's legacy, and if anybody ever needs anything, please let us know.”
Graduate of the University of Oklahoma's Professional Writing program and Ann Arbor native. Looking forward to getting to know Grand Rapids and writing for The Rapidian this summer!