When employees walk into Northern Bites Cafe in Myrtle Beach, they still feel the presence of its late owner Alicia Evans.
“Everything in here has Alicia’s touch on it,” said Evans’ brother-in-law Anthony Monte Carlo.
Evans died Jan. 31 at age 51 after a battle with COVID-19, leaving the cafe in the hands of her husband, Richie Delpazzo. Evans and Delpazzo opened the cafe nearly five years ago, hoping to bring the northern touch of their native New Jersey to the Myrtle Beach area.
‘Mama bear’ knew every customer’s name
It started as any small business does, but the couple soon found community and close friends in their fellow northerners who worked there, employees said.
“It’s almost like ‘Cheers,’ where she knew everyone’s name when you walked in this place,” Monte Carlo said.
The extent of her generosity was evident in the amount of support her family and the cafe have seen since her death, Monte Carlo said. A GoFundMe page has nearly tripled its initial $5,000 goal, and hundreds of people showed up to her funeral.
As a boss, Evans was appreciative of the little things.
“Even if you swept up one little crumb, she would thank you for that,” said Jaden Harvey, an employee at the cafe.
The Carolina Forest cafe owner was “light and bright” with an “infectious personality” that seeped into her interactions with customers, according to employee Michelle Walker. Walker lost her job at the beginning of the pandemic, and Evans and Delpazzo hired her after she stopped at the cafe for breakfast and mentioned her employment struggles.
“She was the mama bear for sure,” Walker said. “She’d keep us all in line.”
Evans remembered birthdays and baked sweets for the employees, though she was known to offer them to customers too.
Evans’ hospitable attitude stretched from running the cafe into her personal life, Monte Carlo said.
“She would always host events and pool parties,” he said. “She would have parties for parties.”
As dedicated as Evans was to her work, she was also dedicated to her family, Monte Carlo said. She raised a 31-year-old son, a 21-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old daughter. Evans consistently worked out her schedule so her daughter Alexa could make it to dance every night of the week.
“As Alexa’s uncle and godfather, I want her to continue to live the most normal life she can,” Monte Carlo said. “(I want her to) enjoy life, to pray to her mother and ask her mother for strength.”
‘She just didn’t get better’
Evans and Delpazzo both tested positive for the coronavirus in January. Evans wasn’t vaccinated, and she had a heart condition that made her more susceptible to the virus’ effects, Monte Carlo said. Delpazzo recovered, but Evans remained sick.
“She just didn’t get better,” Monte Carlo said.
Dealing with the personal grief after Evans’ loss on top of the ongoing toll of the pandemic is complicated, he said. It’s different to experience the loss of a loved one, than to simply see the statistics of COVID-19 deaths on the news, he said.
“Not harping on vaccination, but I truly believe if she was vaccinated, it wouldn’t have been such a life-altering situation,” Monte Carlo said.
To date, more than 1,000 people in Horry County have died of the coronavirus, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.