‘The power of social media’
Newark bars use Facebook to track down serial thief
“It’s so funny, the power of social media. We pretty much solved this in three or four hours. We joined forces. There’s a great strong bond between restaurants, especially in Newark, so it was really cool to see that.” --Gianmarco Martuscelli Klondike Kate’s owner
A man who recently walked out on numerous tabs at several Main Street restaurants has finally settled up after bartenders and employees used social media to identify him.
Reza Shiekh, a bartender at Grotto Pizza, said the bar tab bandit, who the Newark Post is not naming because no criminal charges have been filed, stiffed the restaurant three times over the last few months.
The first time, Shiekh said, he asked the man for a credit card to hold his tab and kept it behind the bar until he was ready to close out. The man later told Shiekh he wanted pay cash, so Shiekh handed his card back and tended to another customer.
“I ended up getting busy and he ended up walking out and I thought maybe he put the money down and I didn’t see it or another bartender picked it up, but then later I realized he never paid,” Shiekh said Tuesday.
The second time it happened, Shiekh had just walked in for a shift and the man was sitting at the bar. He said the man asked to close his tab, but disappeared when it was time to pay up, just like before.
“He went out to smoke a cigarette and never came back in,” he said.
It didn’t take long before Shiekh learned Grotto Pizza wasn’t the only Main Street restaurant hit by the bar tab bandit.
Klondike Kate’s owner Gianmarco Martuscelli said surveillance video at his restaurant captured the culprit dining and dashing on several occasions, including last week, when the man came in for drinks and a burger.
“He either pretended or took a phone call outside and put his bar stool up like to say, ‘No one take my seat,’ and never came back,” he said. “We thought maybe something came up and he would be back to pay his tab, but he didn’t.”
Martuscelli said the man struck again at Kate’s over the weekend, but he wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt and chose not to take any action.
“Like, what if it’s an honest mistake? It makes us look bad,” he said. “We thought it was funny at first, but then we found out it happened to other bartenders at other restaurants on Main Street so we started thinking, ‘Wait a minute, this guy is a scammer.’”
A bartender at Kate’s posted the man’s photo on Facebook and Shiekh shared it on his own page, hoping someone would identify him. Within a few hours, employees from several other Newark bars, including Catherine Rooney’s, Stone Balloon, Arena’s, Timothy’s and Mad Mac’s, left comments saying their restaurants had also been hit by the same man.
Shayna Perez, a bartender at Catherine Rooney’s, had just started at the restaurant and was working her second shift alone when the man came in and sat down at the bar. She said he asked her what the specials were, told her he was meeting someone and ordered a small pitcher of beer, but didn’t start a tab with a credit card. She said he ended up staying at the bar for a few hours, during which he talked about his life, ordered another pitcher of beer and ate some food.
Around 5 p.m., Perez said she looked over and the man’s beer and jacket were still at his seat, but he was gone. She waited a few minutes to see if he would come back, but eventually voided his tab when the next bartender took over.
Perez said Tuesday she felt taken advantage of at the time, and blamed herself because she was new.
“I was so upset with myself,” she said. “I should have just gotten a credit card, but you don’t expect people to do that. Now I get a card from everyone.”
Shiekh was upset, too, which is why he shared the pictures on Facebook and encouraged people to send him the name of the culprit. He said most of the time if someone doesn’t pay their tab, the bartenders have to come up with the cash.
“It’s the same as him going up and taking cash out of the register,” Shiekh said. “Why wouldn’t we go after him?”
Facebook users quickly gave up the man’s name, but before anyone had the chance to contact Newark Police, he showed up to Grotto Pizza on Monday to settle up.
Shiekh said the man was probably tipped off about the social media post, but didn’t apologize for skipping out or leave a tip.
“He couldn’t even bring himself to tip on stolen money,” he said. “And for him to not even apologize is the lowest of the low.”
The man paid all the tabs he owed on Main Street on Monday, including two at Catherine Rooney’s, according to Perez, who also said the man didn’t apologize or tip.
“I don’t think he tipped anyone on Main Street from my knowledge,” she said.
As of Tuesday, the incident had still not been reported to the Newark Police Department.
“If they had reported it, theoretically we could still charge him, but it would be up to the victims – the bars themselves – if we would prosecute,” said Newark Police spokesman Lt. Fred Nelson.
He said the statute of limitations for theft is three years, meaning if the bar tab bandit strikes in Newark again and the bars choose to press charges, he can be held accountable for all of the previous dine and dash incidents that were not reported, regardless of if he paid the tabs.
Martuscelli hopes some bartenders will now think twice before letting a customer rack up a tab without a credit card, but he said Kate’s policy has always been to take cards. He also hopes future dineand- dashers think twice before coming to Newark because Main Street is not to be messed with, he said.
“It’s so funny, the power of social media. We pretty much solved this in three or four hours,” he said. “We joined forces. There’s a great strong bond between restaurants, especially in Newark, so it was really cool to see that.”
Gianmarco Martuscelli, owner of Klondike Kate’s, was one of several representatives of Main Street businesses who turned to social media to track down a man who skipped out on several bar tabs.