PHOTO COURTESY OF TOM HALASKA
The man who allegedly conned his way into numerous free meals at Clayton-area restaurants is at it again — but this time, an eagle-eyed manager stopped his plan to help himself to $66 worth in free fish dinners.
The bust took place Tuesday night at DeMun Oyster Bar, where general manager Tom Halaska says he was already on high alert — and sprung into action quickly enough to snap this photo.
"He used to play this scam when I worked at Sasha's on Shaw," Halaska says. "It's the same familiar pattern."
As the RFT first reported in 2012
, a few local chefs comparing notes began to suspect they had a scam artist in their midst. A middle-aged man named Mitchell Kerman would claim he'd been at their restaurant recently and that his order had been all bollixed up, but that he'd been in too big a hurry to deal with it at the time. Offered recompense, he gladly accepted two free meals to go.
But when the restaurants looked into it, they often realized they hadn't had any orders matching what the man had described. And in some cases, he tried the same scam several times at the same place. Fozzie's Sandwich Emporium, Roxane, Frida's Deli and other restaurants near Clayton were all victims before chef Mike Johnson — the barbecue genius behind Sugarfire Smoke House — caught him in the act and snapped a photo. (At the time, Kerman worked for a Ladue accounting firm; reached at his office, he declined comment.)
Incredibly, even the RFT
's expose didn't stop the guy; we later reported that he pulled the stunt all over again at Onesto's and Nora's in Dogtown
. But it's been a few years since we had any confirmed Scamwich Artist sightings. Halaska says he's convinced the man was merely hitting chain restaurants or going to places where staffers weren't familiar with the story.
But that definitely doesn't describe Halaska, a food industry veteran who says he too was scammed in 2012, back when he worked at Sasha's. He spent some of the intervening years working at restaurants outside the Clayton corridor, but returned to the area when he was hired to be the general manager at the DeMun Oyster Bar five months ago.
And so when he got a message Friday that someone was complaining about a botched order involving two burgers, his bat radar began to tingle. "I knew exactly who it was," Halaska says. "I told him that when he came in, he had to ask for me."
The moment came Tuesday night — and, in true form, the time when the to-go order came in was perfectly chosen. The place was slammed. Beyond that, the guy had ordered two of the more expensive things on the menu — the fish special, at $32 each.
When a nebbishy man arrived to pick up the order, explaining that he had been in the other night, and things had not been to his satisfaction, Halaska swung into action. It was definitely the same guy, he says.
He didn't have his phone, but his mother just happened to be at the bar — and he hissed to her, "I need to take a picture on your phone right now — hurry, hurry, hurry!" He snapped the pic, and then informed the man there would no free dinner.
"Get out," Halaska told him, "or I'm calling the cops." The man left.
Halaska knows that some people feel like he should have pity on the guy. He gets it, but he doesn't agree. His restaurant had to eat those two fish orders, something that's been all too common for eateries the guy has hit.
"There was nothing we could do about it," he says. "These are high quality, locally sourced ingredients, and they're wasted because somebody's trying to get a free dinner."
Some restaurants are all too quick to try to mollify an angry customer, Halaska notes. "Especially when you're busy, most restaurants would rather get rid of the person than have that long conversation. He knows exactly how to do it." But on Tuesday, at least, the Scamwich Artist met his match.
See also: Busted! Scamwich Artist Unmasked by Local Business Owners
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