By 1 a.m. Sunday morning, 22-year-old waitress Melissa Lombardo had made minimal tips from her shift at Timothy's Pub. With only a few tables left to serve, she figured she'd get out of work a little early.
Then, two mysterious gentlemen entered the eatery on Brown's Line south of the Queen Elizabeth Way in Toronto.
One said he was 27, according to Lombardo, and had dark brown hair, a scruffy beard and blue eyes. The other, 40, had a youthful appearance, tanned skin and dirty blonde, spiked hair.
As she usually does, Lombardo approached the two men to take their order.
"They made this weird comment that they're going to make my night," she said. "I kind of brushed it off."
What's your favourite Bruce Springsteen song?
Throughout their evening, they continually asked Lombardo to join them for a chat. They were friendly and funny, she said, so she agreed to sit down once she'd cleared all her tables.
They gave her a warning, she said, saying how she handled the bill would "determine her outcome," and that they appreciated honesty more than anything.
- More from CBC Toronto | Canadian citizen has Nexus card revoked in wake of partial travel ban, questions U.S. procedures
- More from CBC Toronto | Universities growing more reliant on foreign student fees
Curious, Lombardo headed over to the table with the bill. The men asked if she'd mind answering a few questions.
"I've been asked some really weird questions serving, so I was like, 'Whatever, I'll go with it,'" she said.
They asked about her ambitions, where she wanted to travel and what she would do if she could do anything in the world. She told them about her love for music and her desire to turn that passion into a career.
Seemingly to keep her on her toes, they threw in a few random ones, too.
"They asked me another question about what's my favourite Bruce Springsteen song," she said. She told them she didn't know any, a move she thinks proved her honesty.
"They're like, 'All right, good. You did good on that question.'"
'I can't even explain what it means to me'
Apparently the two curious customers were happy with Lombardo's answers.
They added a $1,000 tip to their $31.01 cheque.
"I saw it and immediately started crying," she said. "I was like, 'Is this a mistake? Did you actually mean ... is this real? Where are the cameras?'"
According to Lombardo, the two men said they leave large tips for servers from time to time, zeroing in on people with the ambition and honesty they feel deserves a surprise bonus.
"You don't think these things happen," she said. "You hear about them; you hear about these kind people, but it's just so nice to actually see somebody that kind and generous. The fact that that's real is so amazing to me."
The owner of Timothy's Pub, Tim Brem, couldn't believe the news, and at first he thought something must be wrong.
"Initially, I was skeptical," he said. "I wanted it to be true, but at the same time I just wanted to hold off a little bit. We did our due diligence; we looked at it. It is a legitimate purchase and their intentions were honest, and she's the recipient of a $1,000 tip. First time in 19 years that this has ever happened."
Lombardo plans to invest the money in her dream career as a musician.
Check out Lombardo's cover of 'Baby Love' above.
"I've always played music my whole life, but lately it's been this burning urge ... If I don't do it now I'm going to hate it if I didn't take this chance," she said.
She has a few songs she'd like to record in a real studio, something she's tried to pool her tips together for in the past. But once she paid her rent and living expenses, it left her little wiggle room to chase her ambitions.
"Lately, I've just been having kind of a hard time. I'm only working a couple shifts a week, and I've had quite a bit of bad luck in my life," she said. "Just being heard and somebody actually hearing my passion ... it was just so nice."
In the confusion of the situation, Lombardo forgot to ask how to contact the two gentlemen. But for now, they've inspired her to add another aspiration to her list: To one day pay it forward to someone else who needs it.
"I can't even explain what it means to me."