By Susan Sutton
Shortly before 3 p.m. on Friday, July 6, while Cafe Bello customers quietly sipped coffee, a man in his twenties walked up to the counter and stole approximately $20 from the cafe’s tip jar.
According to barista Madison Kaviyakoen, the suspect–described as a Caucasian man with a sunburned face, standing between 5 foot 8 and 5 foot 10 inches tall–swiped the jar, put it down, then reached back to grab a fistful of $1 bills. He muttered a few expletives and then ran outside, followed by Kaviyakoen, who jumped over the counter in pursuit.
“I don’t know what came over me,” said Kaviyakoen, who has worked at Cafe Bello on Diamond Street for two and a half years.
The suspect, followed closely behind by Kaviyakoen, ran out into the street where she grabbed his arm. He then took several swings at her, momentarily stopping traffic on Diamond Street, and ran up Bosworth Street toward Glen Park School.
When Kaviyakoen returned to the cafe, she called police; a plain clothes officer arrived within two minutes, followed by four uniformed officers shortly after. One officer took her statement while the others walked around outside, seemingly keeping an eye out for the suspect.
According to Kaviyakoen, the suspect has been in Cafe Bello previously, always asking to buy items at a discounted price, to which the answer is a resounding no. This is the first time he attempted–and apparently succeeded–in stealing anything.
“He usually doesn’t try anything when I’m here,” said Kaviyakoen, “because I’m not afraid to 86 anyone from the coffee shop.”
The incident, which lasted about three minutes, but to the observer seemed much longer, unfolded in front of about a dozen patrons, most of whom Kaviyakoen says are regulars.
Kevin, who recently moved here from Chicago, was shocked at what transpired. Not so much at the strong armed robbery, but at the fact that no one got up to help Kaviyakoen.
“In Chicago, half the shop would’ve ran out into the street after him, dragged him back in the store and. . . ” His voice trailed off and his eyes looked downward.
John, who describes himself as “more than a regular,” also witnessed the crime. However, he disagrees with Kevin’s Chicagoan reaction.
“In San Francisco, for $20, you let him go,” said John. “I added it up in my brain. Let him have the money.”
That’s not to say that John is not impressed by Kaviyakoen’s actions. “I was shocked at her bravery,” he said. “She’s the only girl I’ve seen go after a guy and actually catch him.”
This is not the first time the cafe has been the victim of a robbery, according to Kaviyakoen. Around Thanksgiving, someone took the entire tip jar off the counter by concealing it under his coat. In addition, several months ago, the baristas’ purses were stolen from the back room.
Although the crime seemed shocking to most observers, John contends it’s “standard operating procedure in San Francisco.” In fact, he says, “Tip jar theft is actually a job here.”
After the police officers left, Kaviyakoen called her manager to request a review of the store’s video camera, placed the case number information on the counter next to the register and served up a Cafe Americano.
“I live in the Mission,” she said. “I’m always cautious about my surroundings, especially being a young woman.”
Photo: Elizabeth Weise