Out of nowhere, she was right there behind him

At our company we like to recognize all employees for their outstanding work but most recently we want to recognize an employee that went above and beyond. One of our employees was featured in an article from the Antelope Valley Press in Palmdale, CA. Read below on how one of our crew members saved a young boy’s life.

Out of nowhere, she was right there behind him

by William Warford, Antelope Valley Press

It was a teary reunion Friday at the Souplantation restaurant in Palmdale, but they were tears of joy. It could have been so different.

“I didn’t think it would be so emotional,” said Ali Villalobos, smiling and wiping away a tear at the same time. She brought her 2- year-old son Caleb Ventura back to the restaurant to greet and formally thank employee Leila Munoz for what she did exactly one week before.

The previous Friday, Ali (pronounced Allie) Villalobos and her son were having lunch at the Souplantation, as they often do. But this time Villalobos’ mom wasn’t available to come along, and when Villalobos stepped away about six feet and turned to refill Caleb’s drink, the tot reached over to her plate, grabbed a crouton and popped it in his mouth. It only takes a second.

His mom returned to the table and noticed something wasn’t quite right. “At first I thought he was just a little antsy, or maybe he’d just taken too big a bite,” she said. “But then he opened his mouth and I couldn’t see anything. He started flailing his legs and waving his arms, and changing color. I said, ‘He’s not breathing!’ ”

Caleb made no sound and Villalobos sensed that horrible feeling that her worst nightmare was actually happening right before her eyes.

It’s that this-isn’t-really-happening feeling. But it was happening.

Leila Munoz noticed it, too, as she looked up from her work clearing tables.

To Villalobos, Munoz came on the scene like some sort of angel: “Out of nowhere, she was right there behind him, and she was so calm. She said, ‘You need to clear his airway because he’s not breathing.’ ”

Villalobos reached in with her fingers but the object in Caleb’s airway was too far down to clear, and Munoz realized it immediately.

“So she lifted him up. By this time his lips were blue. She was so calm. I couldn’t believe how calm she was. She said, ‘Let me push on his stomach.’ She did it and out came this half a crouton. It flew out; I actually caught it in my hand. All his air came back and people started clapping because they’d seen what was happening.”

Villalobos was overwhelmed. “It was the most wonderful thing. And she said to me, ‘You did a good job, mom,’ even though she was the one who did it, and then she went back to work like it was no big deal.

She went back to clearing tables. What an amazing, humble woman.”

Munoz was quiet and humble when it happened not even mentioning the incident to co-workers who hadn’t seen it and she remained humble at Friday’s reunion. “I have four kids of my own, and two nieces and one more on the way, so I’m around kids all the time,” she said. “So I think it was just a natural thing, being a mom.”

It was up to Juan Moreno, the Souplantation general manager, to tell the other employees because Munoz wasn’t going to say a word. “I told everybody,” Moreno said. “We’re so proud of Leila. She just said it was a natural reaction, but it was heroic. The mom was in tears, she couldn’t believe how Leila just jumped in.”

And then went back to work.

“Yes, and then went back to work,” Moreno said with a laugh. “She was

like: ‘Let me go save this baby’s life, then I’ve got two dirty tables to clear.’ She just went about her day. But we’re like family here, and we’re proud of this member of our family. One of our crew members was in tears when she heard what Leila did.”

And Friday’s reunion brought tears all around. “How can I ever thank her for what she did?” Villalobos said.

For his part, Caleb handed Munoz some flowers Friday and grew a tad impatient as the two women hugged and cried. His mom told him he’ll read about this day when he’s older. Then he sat down to a nice lunch, compliments of Souplantation.

No croutons.

William P. Warford’s column appears every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday in the Antelope Valley Press. Contact him at (661) 267-4166; P.O. Box 4050, Palmdale, CA, 93590-4050; or

25 thoughts on “Out of nowhere, she was right there behind him”

  1. What an amazing story!! So nice to know that the company takes the time to recognize the good things that their employees do! There is a special place in heaven for you Leila!!

  2. Wow! Great story.. It’s great to know in a moment of panic that she was there to help! Way to go Leila! She deserves a raise 😉

  3. So encouraging to know there are still people who will be that Good Samaritan. Thank you for these real life stories.

  4. Just wanted to mention that everytime we visit the Lombard, IL location on a Sunday, Haley Joy is always so pleasant. She greets us with a smile and always make us feel welcome! Thanks Haley Joy!

  5. Wow! What a great story! It really would make sense for all restaurant workers to be trained to help choking diners. Way to go Leila!

  6. I live in Palmdale and come to this Souplantation once a week. The employees are fantastic and they treat their customers as family. I am not surprised at this employee’s good work and humble attitude. Congratulations on saving this little boy’s life. Amazing!

  7. Our family loves Souplantation, especially my 3 year old who gets so excited when he knows we are going there for dinner! The story about Leila Munoz saving the little boy from choking made me teary eyed while reading it. It hit home because I have a little boy of my own about the same age. Congratulations on a great job Leila! You are a wonderful mother yourself! This was a great story to put on your blog and I think it would be great to put in a newsletter for everyone to read at Souplantation as well (for those who don’t have the time to read blogs).

  8. It’s wonderful that Leila knew what was happening and responded immediately. I also enjoy stories where the “true heros” don’t toot their own horn.

    In my area, this restaurant is called Sweet Tomatoes and I love the selections of salad, soup and pasta. My husband and I eat there frequently.

  9. I have been meaning to let someone know about an employee at our local store. The manager at your Sandy Utah location is a gem. The last time we there, he welcomed us sincerely and later as I went to the bathroom, I saw him in the back washing dishes. In the past he has also checked on us and shared coupons. He’s a great employee. I dont remember his name.

  10. What a touching story! Leila! You are the role model for all!
    The fruit and vegetable charllenge gave good tips which is very helpful!
    I have always enjoy lettuce, broccoli and bell pepper when I go to Souplantation.


  11. Here are three green things I like at Sweet Tomatoes: celery, broccoli, spinach. I really enjoy Joan’s Broccoli salad – mmm good!

  12. It’s interesting that people who truly do great things never think of themselves. We saw this on 9/11 but most importantly we see it everyday. Never give up on people because out there while there is some bad there is plenty of good also.
    thanks for the reminder

  13. Yay! Great job Leila! And thanks to Leila’s manager for taking notice and giving recognition where it was due!

  14. Leila is definitely a hero! She deserves an “Employee of the day, week, month, and year” for saving somebody’s life! Not to mention a really large bonus in her paycheck! And while you all ponder that, I am thinking of salad full of spinach, green peppers and chive!

  15. THANK YOU, Leila for being an amazing person and employee! It is an honor to work with people as incredible as you here at Souplantation & Sweet Tomatoes. Talk about inspiring people to always be their best… you are my inspiration today as an employee, mother and human being. I appreciate what you did for this little boy and how you have obviously touched all of the guests in Palmdale.

    – Kristin Carpenter
    Director of Human Resources
    Souplantation & Sweet Tomatoes

  16. Congrats! Leila Im so proud of you for saving little Caleb I couldn’t think that you would have done anything diffrent that day your always on the look out to lend a hand to any one, It’s an honor to have a sister like you. Your my hero too! Souplantation Rocks!

    Marcy Munoz

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