St. Lawrence Market's long-time rice merchant died last week.
A t-shirt Rubin “Rube” Marcus once wore at his basement stall in St. Lawrence Market summed up his business: “The Rice Man Cometh.” For nearly 40 years, Marcus, who died on Thursday at the age of 92, was a market fixture. He introduced shoppers to rice varieties that went beyond white, brown, and Uncle Ben’s.
Much of Marcus’s life revolved around the market. As a child who grew up nearby, he sold coconuts outside. Later, while looking for a sideline to his career as an electrician for local school boards, Marcus took advantage of renovations to the south market in the mid-1970s to become one of its first basement vendors. “I remember my first week in my stall,” he told the Star in a 1991 interview. “I sold $22 worth of beans—and I didn’t know beans about beans!” His wife Pearl suggested the city could use a good rice store, and Marcus soon developed a reputation for carrying exotic varieties, some of which were suggested by regular customers. Rube’s grew to carry 40 varieties of rice. At a second nearby stall, he sold flour, granola, and pasta.
Purple and red rices weren’t the only colourful items on display at the rice stall. Family members who helped out wore bright yellow t-shirts that identified their relationships to Marcus. Customers received cooking tips and recipe suggestions, some of which Marcus eventually published as a pamphlet. “My wife and kids are the cooks,” Marcus told the Globe and Mail in 1982. “But I just enjoy it. I just keep the store.” As his expertise grew, he enjoyed interacting with regular customers, even if they only stopped to say hello. “My place is unique and everybody flatters me,” he joked to the Star. “If I didn’t have it I don’t know what I’d do with myself.”
The market celebrated Marcus’s 90th birthday in January 2011. “Rube embodies everything that makes St. Lawrence Market what it is today,” market supervisor Jorge Carvalho observed. “His passion for food, extensive knowledge and expertise, his love for community and family, and his generous spirit is what makes him connect to everyone he meets.” Though Marcus cut back on his hours following the celebration, he continued to work until shortly before his death.
The relationships Marcus developed were evident in the condolences left by shoppers at a small memorial at Rube’s this past Saturday. While business carried on, employees and family members saluted Marcus by wearing bright yellow t-shirts and dishing out samples of creamy rice pudding. A celebration of Marcus’s life will be held at the north market at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, June 5.
Additional material from the April 14, 1982 edition of the Globe and Mail, the January 26, 2011 edition of Inside Toronto, the July 3, 1991 edition of the Toronto Star, and the January 20, 2011 edition of the Toronto Sun.