By: Jen Russon
When news broke Sweet Tomatoes, the popular soup and salad chain with a presence on University Drive was permanently closed, the reaction among Coral Springs residents showed an overwhelming concern for one of its longest-running employees, Marcel Coulange.
The Haitian-born server worked for Sweet Tomatoes for 24 years, greeted repeat customers by name, chatted with their kids, and brought fresh-baked cookies to the tables of thousands of diners until the restaurant announced it would never reopen due to coronavirus.
“Sad. Our family had great times there. The one bus guy there, Marcel, was the nicest guy, felt like a friend,” wrote a former customer on Facebook.
The story of Sweet Tomatoes closing nationwide on Coral Springs Talk, generated hundreds of similar comments, with posts asking how they might find Marcel and thank him, or tip him one last time.
“He was so sweet, he knew everyone’s name,” another resident wrote, adding that she hoped Marcel and the rest of the Sweet Tomatoes staff found new jobs quickly.
It wasn’t long before the same kind of benevolence and concern also reached the Berman family in Parkland, who fondly recall how nice he was.
“I think what sets Marcel apart is that he had the most humble of jobs, yet he embraced it with the greatest pride and care. He stuck with it for years, and I know that so many community members feel a big connection with him and this loss,” said Carrie Berman.
Berman reached out to Coral Springs Talk to see if they could track down Marcel, find out if he needed assistance, and set up a GoFundMe in his name.
The beloved server spoke to the Bermans at length, catching them up with how is doing and said he is humbled they want to do this for him; however, the father of five grown children said he prefers to make his own way in life through his love of God and hard work.
Undeterred, the Berman’s organized a campaign called “Marcel the Cookie Man,” in honor of all the ribbon-wrapped cellophane bags of chewy cookies he brought their daughters Sophia and Jane over the years.
Deeply humbled when he was told how much his love for other human beings was reciprocated, Marcel said he simply follows the golden rule.
“I just treat everyone the way I hope they’ll treat me,” he said from his home in Coral Springs.
Marcel said he is a proud homeowner and was able to pay off his house through working 60+ hour weeks at both Sweet Tomatoes and a catering company.
“I cannot wait to get back to work,” he said. “I miss the people at my job. I was shocked when I found out we were closing, and I wouldn’t see my brothers and sisters around as much,” said Marcel.
He added the most challenging part of hunkering down in his home near Wiles, and Riverside Drive is watching his wife, Margaret Charles, go off to work every day.
“That’s my job to provide for her. I always have,” Marcel said of his wife of almost 30 years, adding that when he sees her putting in overtime as a nurse at a senior care facility in Coconut Creek, it bothers him.
The smiling server said he holds out hope, restaurants will soon reopen, and he can join the foodservice industry once again, adding he is happy to share his resume with potential employers. Contact him at Cmargarette@aol.com.
For those who wish to donate to Marcel’s GoFundMe, the Bermans spoke with him and received his consent to raise enough funds to sustain him and Margaret Charles until he finds employment.
We can’t go back for one more salad, but we can leave one last tip,” said the Bermans.
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- Jen Russon is a freelance writer and English Language Arts teacher. She has published two novels to Amazon Kindle and lives in Coral Springs with her family.
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