Lisa Mollet has received generous tips in her 15-plus years as a restaurant server, but never one of the four-wheel variety.
That changed last month when, instead of putting a few dollars under their soup bowl, a pair of Mollet’s customers at the Empire Diner in Brooklawn, N.J., left her the keys to a car.
Mollet has been waiting tables at Empire for the past four years. Two of her regulars — Elizabeth “Lisa” Ayala and her boyfriend, Yeisont “Jason” Medina — have enjoyed her service so much, they decided to give her a 2006 Nissan Altima that they no longer need.
Now that is some tip.
“I had a lot of emotions going through at the time,” Mollet said. “I was shocked and never had something like that happen. It was crazy.”
Mollet, 37, lives with her son, Kingston, 8, and daughter, Brooklynn, 7, in nearby Gloucester City. She had been having major car troubles before the pandemic started, and she found herself having to walk or take a taxi to work.
“She was talking to my boyfriend one day that her car broke down, and that is when we came up with the idea of surprising her with a car,” Ayala said. “We had an extra car and thought she could use it.”
Could she ever.
The coronavirus led to Mollet losing her job for about three months, and she said it has been difficult to keep up with the bills.
“Being out of work, I was trying to make it day by day, and then something like this happens and it is a real blessing,” she said.
Ayala and Medina, who live in Paulsboro, had shown their generosity even before they left Mollet a car as a tip. Earlier this summer, they threw a party at the diner for Ayala’s 18-year-old daughter, and Mollet was their server.
“My coworker and I did the party, and they gave us $100 each,” Mollet said.
Little did she know that tip would be topped by a set of wheels. The Nissan has about 200,000 miles on it, Mollet said, but hey, it gets her to work.
“It was good,” Ayala said. “Her eyes popped wide open and she said, ‘Are you serious, I am going to give you a couple of dollars for it when I have it.’”
Ayala, 51, said that she and Medina, 49, didn’t want any money for the car.
“I told her we didn’t need the car, and she can take her kids to school and not have to walk or take Uber to work,” Ayala said.
Mollet says her two children were equally excited about the tip. And they weren’t the only ones.
“I have never seen anything like this (for) me or my employees,” said Empire Diner owner Dervis Akturk, 32.
He said the tip couldn’t have gone to a more worthy person.
“This is well deserved,” he said. “I always say hard work pays off, and she is one of the hardest workers. I was so happy for her.”
This gesture has gained national attention. Mollet said she has been contacted by The Kelly Clarkson Show and will be interviewed via Skype about her unusual tip.
“I have heard from a lot of people, and it has been unbelievable,” Mollet said.
For Mollet, the good gesture came at an opportune time.
“I just feel so fortunate, especially after not being able to work for a few months,” she said. “Most of all, their generosity has overwhelmed me.”
©2020 The Philadelphia Inquirer