This story involves two women: a woman who works in a restaurant, and the woman who stole her tip money.
The primary woman in this story is Alicia Stange. She works at Anthony's Mediterranean Cuisine on Eureka Way.
First, about the restaurant. I'm a fan of Anthony's Mediterranean Cuisine. The food is good, and the lamb is especially excellent. I'm quite fond of the lamb kabobs, the pita, hummus and the lamb gyros. This is a good time for a little pronunciation lesson on how to say gyro. It's YEE-row, not GUY-row.
Anthony's Mediterranean Cuisine is colorful and eclectic, with an ice cream freezer that displays various frozen treats, like Häagen-Dazs bars, and one counter that holds a rack of candy bars and another counter that holds a fountain machine for self-service sodas and iced tea. Food is presented inside either paper-lined red plastic baskets or on plastic plates accompanied by plastic utensils. Diners are encouraged to stack their baskets, plates and cups near the garbage by the door before they leave. Handwritten neon lettering on black light boards displays the menu.
You may recall that A News Cafe.com's own Femme de Joie wrote a favorable review of Anthony's in February of 2016.
I have eaten a lot at Anthony's, because not only do I love the food, but I like the people who work there, and I feel comfortable with the atmosphere. Plus, a huge bonus for me is that it's a short walk from my new/old house, which makes me feel citified. It's the kind of restaurant that's super casual and almost has a sort of "Cheers" impression, because a lot of customers are regulars. Sometimes there are as many as two people working - usually women. But I'd say that about eight times out of 10 when I visit Anthony's, Alicia Stange is the only person there.
She's small, confident and has a direct gaze from bright blue eyes accented with black eyeliner.
She's often the person who takes my order, prepares my food and either brings it to my table or wraps it up in a plastic to-go sack.
Alicia's easy to like. She's always moving, and she talks a little while she works. Not a lot. Friendly but not overly familiar. Smart and efficient. She cracks deadpan jokes and makes wry observations, such as the fact I always order lamb.
Inside the restaurant on the front counter the little sign taped to the tip jar always cracks me up.
"PITA spelled backwards is A TIP :)"
That tip jar is where we meet the second woman, Deb. I won't print her last name, and won't show a photo of her face, although she's been a trending topic on various Redding Facebook pages all week with lots of exposure of her name and photos, including posts written by her and her mother on some Redding Facebook crime pages.
This story began last week when Alicia wrote a Facebook post in which she explained what happened that night at work.
To summarize, in case you can't read the small screen-shot print: The woman ordered four gyros to go, paid for them and then asked for some hot sauce. When Alicia turned her back to get the sauce, the woman quickly removed Alicia's tips from the flower pot and stashed the money in her purse.
Alicia and the restaurant's owner knew exactly what happened because the restaurant has a camera pointed down from the ceiling toward the register, to the left of the "order here" sign.
There's even a sign on the wall that says, "Smile, you're on camera," to encourage customers to be on their best behavior.
Things derailed after Alicia's Facebook post, which was shared many times by people who demanded justice and basically said, "Do you know this woman? She just ripped off Alicia's tips."
Of course, Redding being the smallest town of more than 90,000 people in the world, the woman was quickly identified by name. People chose sides. Insults and opinions swirled. Many of the commenters blasted the tip-taking woman. A few shared their negative experiences with her. The predominant sentiment was justified public humiliation. One particularly creative guy even designed a pair of T-shirts with an image of Deb's face (from the security camera screen grab) and catchy slogans. Some Facebookers offered to buy the shirts.
Soon after, Alicia spoke to the tip-taking woman on the phone, who initially feigned ignorance. But when informed that the whole theft was captured on camera, eventually Deb admitted it, but not without various excuses, like she was tired, she was stressed, she felt justified in taking the tips because she believed the price of the gyros was excessive, and finally, she couldn't explain why she did it because she didn't even need the money.
The tip-taker asked Alicia to please remove the Facebook post, because she said it was making her life miserable. Alicia refused.
The Facebook mosh pit churned. People took sides. The tip-taking woman's mother got involved with a post of her own in defense of her daughter that ended with her expression of pride in her daughter.
For the record, I spoke with Alicia last night at Anthony's where I ordered dinner. She said that so far, she's received no money from Deb. But Alicia added that at this point, even if Deb came in and tried to return the money, Alicia wouldn't accept it.
"All I want from her is for her to come in and apologize to me," Alicia said during a slow spell at Anthony's as I ate my lamb kabob.
I went home and looked on Facebook. I found Alicia's page and photos of her and her adorable child. I saw Deb's page, and saw photos of her cute kids. I learned Deb professes to be a Christian lady, someone who likes alternative Christian music. She and I have many Facebook friends in common.
One might have thought that the sheer embarrassment of the whole ordeal would have caused the woman to just return the money, apologize, slink quietly off into the sunset, keep a low profile, and for goodness sake, stay a million miles away from Facebook.
But no. This is what else I found on Facebook, posted by Deb herself. I've blocked out her name, as well as the photo she used of herself in the post, which happens to be a still shot from Anthony's video camera footage that Alicia posted on Facebook. I don't intend to help the woman harm herself any more than she already has.
Here's Deb's post, in case you can't read the screen shot:
"I wanted to tell this group thank you and I want to personally thank Alicia Because of this video I have gotten lots of support, and People reaching out to me from all over offering me money and Christmas presents for my children. I heard the same is happening for Alicia. Also a home restoration company has reached out to me and offered to finish our restorations. And as for Anthony's Restaurant I heard they are getting lots of publicity. YOUR WELCOME!!"
Alicia, the victim, is flummoxed by the strange turn of events. She laughed and shook her head "no" when I asked if it was true; that people were also showering her with money and Christmas presents, as Deb said.
Alicia said that not only has nothing like that happening, but she didn't expect it. In fact, she said it would feel weird.
But what feels even more strange to Alicia is that, if we believe Deb's post, this same woman who stole from Alicia has actually somehow benefited from the theft; from cash and presents to even home-restoration help. The final straw was that Deb took credit for potentially driving business to the very place she ripped off.
What the what?
Clearly, Deb-the-tip-taker has some serious issues that extend beyond the tip-jar incident. Because of that, on some level I feel for her. She must be suffering.
However, what about Alicia?
She's still at Anthony's Mediterranean Cuisine where she typically works more than 30 hours a week. And despite Deb's Facebook claim that all her inadvertent "publicity" helped increase business at Anthony's, Alicia says things are about the same, even the tip jar location, which is still on the front counter.
Perhaps the biggest change for Alicia is the realization of how easy it is to misjudge someone. Alicia said she never would have guessed that the attractive, well-dressed young woman who ordered four gyros, someone who laughed and talked with Alicia -- who even suggested that the woman should try Gyro Wednesdays, when gyros are only $5.99 -- would steal her tips.
"Her mom and her husband are backing her up 100 percent," Alicia said. "Some people feel sorry for her and say she has mental issues, and she has a sick kid. OK. But does that give someone the right to steal?"
Alicia said that if she could change anything about her original Facebook post, Alicia would have omitted the part where she described herself as a single parent, and that it was a few weeks before Christmas.
"I don't like to make a big deal about it, but when she took that money she didn't know if I was a single mom, or if I had a sick kid, or anything about me," she said.
"It's really not about the money. It just bothers me that someone could do that and get away with it."