Is the man who conned several St. Louis restaurants into giving him free food last year up to his old tricks? Todd Brutcher, manager of Onesto Pizza and Trattoria (5401 Finkman Street; 314-802-8883), thinks so after a run-in this week with the alleged Scamwich Artist.
Brutcher tells Gut Check that on Tuesday he overheard one of his servers talking to a customer who wanted food comped because the restaurant allegedly messed up his order. Brutcher remembered someone calling last Saturday with a similar complaint and jumped into the conversation to ask: "Oh, wait, the turkey sandwiches?"
"Uh, yeah, yeah, that's what it is," replied the customer, not looking Brutcher in the eye. The man at the counter had just ordered two entrees, so Brutcher agreed to subtract from his meal the price of two sandwiches. The customer paid the difference in cash and left quickly.
Afterward, Brutcher couldn't get the transaction out of his head -- something seemed off. Then he remembered Gut Check's story last October about the so-called St. Louis "Scamwich Artist," a.k.a. Mitchell Kerman.
"I saw the photo [that appeared in the Gut Check article last October], and I'm like, sure as shit, it's that dude! It's him!" Brutcher says. "The balls on this guy -- first of all, he gets busted, and not a year goes by and he's doing it again."
Brutcher says he printed out the picture and stuck it on Onesto's carry-out computer, so no other employees will be fooled. He also gave it to his friends at Quincy Street Bistro and Mathew's Kitchen.
Brutcher remembered the customer's M.O. (two sandwiches) and the fact that he was an older man. "It wasn't for much. It was twenty bucks. But A, I hate thieves; and B, he was busted on this not a year ago and he's doing it again," he says.
As it turns out, Onesto isn't the only St. Louis restaurant complaining about Kerman this week. Rob Quiason, owner of the Dogtown sandwich shop Nora's (1136 Tamm Avenue; 314-645-2706), says his staff fell victim to the Scamwich Artist just yesterday. Quiason tells Gut Check that a man called about a week ago claiming that he had ordered two turkey sandwiches on wheat bread and Nora's had given him white bread.
As is the restaurant's usual policy, he was told that next time he came in, they would comp the sandwiches. Since Nora's doesn't get a lot of those types of calls, Quiason was already a little suspicious. He pulled up Gut Check's story from last fall and then checked the caller ID for the phone number that the customer used to make the complaint.
The name came up as Charles Daniel, and the customer had given the name "Mike." That said, Quiason figured it wasn't Kerman. (Little did Quaison know that real-estate records list a "Charles Daniel" as the owner of the property where Kerman is believed to live in St. Louis county.)
Then, yesterday, the same man called back to Nora's and ordered two more turkey sandwiches, but on gluten-free bread (which costs extra) and with a side of soup. He was told he'd have to pay extra for the bread and the soup, but the base price of the sandwiches would be comped.
Mitchell Kerman came in to Nora's during the lunch rush and told server Katy Miller that he had a to-go order that "should be taken care of."
"He really was trying come in and pick it up and get the whole thing for free and leave," Miller says. "He was an awkward guy. He was uncomfortable, and he was trying to rush through the process."
Quiason spotted Kerman from the kitchen and immediately recognized him. He tried to snap a photo with his phone but couldn't get a clear picture. Quiason didn't want to make a big scene in front of all the other customers waiting for their food, so Kerman was allowed to pay the difference and leave.
Gut Check couldn't reach Kerman yesterday to question him about Nora's. But earlier in the week we successfully contacted him to discuss -- briefly -- what happened at Onesto. Kerman confirmed that he was at the south St. Louis restaurant on Tuesday but denied getting free food. Moreover, he said he won't be returning to Onesto again.
Too bad. Brutcher was looking forward to it.
"I want him to try and come in again," says Onesto's manager. "I'm going to embarrass him when he comes in. I just want to publicly embarrass him, is what I want to do." Gut Check is always hungry for tips and feedback. Email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter.