MARTIN COUNTY, Fla. - Coincidence? Or sneaky scheme?
Employees at more than a dozen Stuart restaurants say in the last month, a woman has complained that she found shards of glass or plastic in her food.
In each case, employees said the woman, a brunette in her early 30s, said she used to work in the food industry, and the foreign object stabbed her in her lip.
She ate alone, and wouldn’t cause a scene, but restaurant employees wanted to make things right. They compensated her, gave her more food to take home, and in some cases, gave her gift cards up to $50 in value.
The incidents happened within the last month or so. But only recently did restaurant owners and managers start learning they were not alone, and possibly victims of a woman’s attempt to get a free meal.
It took one Facebook post from a manager at Carmela’s Brick Oven Pizza on Ocean Boulevard to bring this possible scheme to light.
“I figured putting it on Facebook would be able to keep someone else from going through something crazy like what we went through,” said Manager Carra Crehan.
Crehan said the woman claimed to find a shard of glass in a chicken entree at Carmela’s.
The woman often ordered a chicken meal.
“I immediately told her I was so sorry, that we would comp her food.”
Shortly after, Crehan was talking with a friend who works at another local restaurant about the incident.
That friend had the exact same story, which Crehan said made her realize the shard of glass probably did not come from their restaurant.
The comp is not what she is upset about.
Jobs could be on the line. Vendors could have been fired. Employees had to throw out good food and start all over. Some scoured their kitchens for hours trying to find where the glass could have come from.
“Now I have to go and do all this research and see, 'Did the dish washer break a glass? Do we have to throw things away?' It’s a big deal for a small restaurant to hear something like that. It was really scary,” Crehan said.
Bryan Shepherd at TooJays in Stuart said they also comped a meal for a woman who matched the description and gave the same story.
“It could be a bad blow, give us a reputation that we’re not food handling properly,” said Shepherd.
Nolan Porter, a manager at Twisted Tuna, wrote up the incident report when a woman made a complaint at the bar this month.
Her lip was bleeding, Porter said.
“She stated that biting into a chicken finger, that she felt a foreign object puncture her lip,” said Porter.
She also gave a name and phone number to Porter, but he does not know if she was telling the truth.
Other restaurants with similar incidents include Duffy’s, Luna, Hurricane Grill & Wings, Casa Giuseppes Italian Grille, Stuart Boathouse, Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza, Denny’s, Bono’s BBQ, Pusateri’s, Flamingo Diner, Fresh Catch, Chili’s, Outback Steakhouse and Tutto Italiano.
Employees said they have notified police.
Stuart police and the Martin County Sheriff’s Office said they have heard the complaints, and at least one restaurant says there is some surveillance footage of the woman.
Employees say they want to help her if she’s hungry, just not at the cost of their reputation.
“If you need a hand out, just ask,” Porter said.
“We would have given her a free slice of pizza in a second,” said Crehan.