TORONTO -- Tomas Kaberle has become a deliveryman in demand.
The former Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman caught many customers by surprise when he started showing up at their doorsteps in mid-March with their food orders from Quanto Basta, the Italian restaurant in Toronto owned by his wife, Julia, and her sister, Daniela.
A month later, his popularity in this newfound role is soaring.
"When we first started delivering last month after the government banned dining in at restaurants because of the coronavirus pandemic, people were shocked when they saw him," Julia said with a laugh. "They'd tell him, 'I know you from somewhere.' I'd get emails asking about his connection with the restaurant and I'd say, "He's my husband.' They had no idea we were married.
"People will put in their orders now and say, 'Can Tomas please bring them to us?' When people started recognizing him, word spread, and it's become a thing.
"We're now getting requests where someone in self-isolation is having a birthday and one of the ways they want to celebrate is to have Tomas Kaberle come to the door with their dinner."
Kaberle played the first 12 of his 16 NHL seasons with the Maple Leafs. The fan favorite played 878 games for Toronto and is the second-highest scoring defenseman in Maple Leafs history with 520 points.
The 42-year-old hasn't played an NHL game since 2013 and said it's cool to see customers light up when they recognize him.
"If it lifts people's spirits, that's great," he said. "In these times, if you can put smiles on people's faces, that's the main thing that matters."
Like all restaurants in Ontario, Quanto Basta was forced to transition exclusively to takeout during the coronavirus pandemic, per a government edict last month.
"At the time, Julia had to lay people off and was even thinking of closing down," Kaberle said. "She was talking about finding ways to keep things going and asked if I could help out. I said sure.
"I'm careful, I wear a mask and gloves, and just try to be safe. It's great to be able to help people."
He's also helping financially in the fight against the coronavirus.
"We're donating a percentage of our sales to Michael Garron Hospital (in Toronto)," Julia said, "and Tomas said whatever we get, he'll match it with an amount 10 times of our original donation. We also just recently worked it out where he is going to provide meals for five families in need.
"He just wants to help."
One of the more frequent requests of Kaberle has come from customers wishing to get a souvenir from their celebrity deliveryman. Posing for photos through the window was fine, but signing autographs was out of the question because of coronavirus fears and the need for people to stay 6 feet apart.
That is, until recently.
"So what he's done now: He has his own pen," Julia said. "And he brings some of his own hockey cards. If they do ask, he'll sign the hockey card, then leave it outside the door.
"He's got some good stories. He'll come back and tell us, 'Oh my God!' And then he'll just start laughing."
The smiles make it all worthwhile.
"I've had trips where you've been able to make a kid laugh and it makes your day," Kaberle said.
The Kaberles have three children of their own: Luka, 8; Mikela, 6; and Alexsandra, 2. It makes for busy schedules.
"It's crazy, so we try not to overlap too much," Julia said. "I come into work around 2 (p.m.). Thomas comes in around 5:30. I try to head out around 7.
"It's all worth it. We come home and feel blessed that we can play a role in this. We're lucky."
Kaberle had 563 points (87 goals, 476 assists) in 984 games with the Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes and Montreal Canadiens from 1998-2013. He understands what it's like to be in the spotlight in a hockey-crazed city like Toronto but said it is the health care workers who should be getting all the applause.
"The doctors, the nurses, the people [on the front lines], they are the real heroes," Kaberle said. "Doctors hardly get sleep, stay in the hospitals and miss out on seeing their families because of [the] quarantine.
"We just want to do our part and help any way we can."