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West Orange Times & Observer Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2017 6 months ago

Tip-jar thieves strike eateries

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Ocoee businesses are taking more precautions for the sake of their employees who fall victim to tip thieves.
by: Gabby Baquero Staff Writer

OCOEE – No one likes a thief — much less one who steals hard-earned tips from young employees.

And after recent events, Sweet Jessie’s Homemade Ice Cream and Franco’s Pizza have begun to employ tactics to decrease their chances of losing money to tip-jar thieves.

An incident report from Ocoee police also detailed a theft that occurred at Sobik’s Subs Dec. 27. The establishment had $10 stolen by a lady who had ordered a sandwich and taken the tip tray with her to the restroom.

But the latest theft involves Sweet Jessie’s Homemade Ice Cream, which lost $20 to $40 in tips Feb. 3 courtesy of two thieves seen on surveillance footage. The shop was busy that evening, and it happened quickly, explained Britney Bouknight — an employee who heard the story from the two employees working that night. 

One employee left to go wash her hands once the line died down, while the second went to the back of the shop. The minute the second employee turned around, Bouknight said, the employee heard the change inside the jar jingle. When she turned back around, she saw two teens take off running and laughing.

“They did not care at all,” Bouknight said. “It’s happened four times, but it’s usually these other little kids stealing maybe $1 to $2, nothing serious.”

Owner Jessica Pollack decided to report the theft this time, because it was a higher amount and both employees working that night had seen the tip thieves skulking around beforehand.

“The businesses around here need to know what’s going on,” Pollack said. “They just need to be cautious and keep an eye out, because if it’s happening to us, it’s probably happening to others.”

Ocoee Police Deputy Chief Steve McCosker advised local businesses to try securing their tip or donation jars and to empty them regularly to reduce the opportunity for thieves to take advantage.

Franco’s Pizza, which had $40 to $50 stolen in December, began emptying its tip jar routinely. Kaylee Nix, the 16-year-old daughter of the owner, was working that day.

“There was a lady that was in here and she had a little boy with her who was maybe 2 years old,” Nix said. “She was acting extremely suspicious, and we even had a couple other customers say something about her because she would actually come up here to the front and leave her child in the dining room and ask the people who were sitting next to her if they could watch her child really quickly.”

Nix and another employee were both in the dining area at one point. When she returned to the counter, the tip jar had only a couple of dollars left, but when she had last seen it, it was filled. By the time she realized what happened, the lady was gone.

“I was so mad; I almost cried,” Nix said. “We were both pretty upset about it and just thinking like how could somebody do that?”

Now, Nix she keeps her tips in her apron and empties the tip jar immediately after someone throws some cash in it. Pollack has ordered another tip jar that will be attached to the counter.

Not all was lost, however. As knowledge of the incident spread via Facebook, local residents showed their support for the employees. In five days, the regular patrons and strangers had donated about $70.

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Contact Gabby Baquero at gbaquero@orangeobserver.com.

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