Police arrested a man they think is responsible for a recent wave of restaurant invasions after he was caught on video burglarizing a Fifth Avenue eatery.
Schnitzel Haus manager Richard Urban said he drove by the locked-up German-style tavern shortly before 1 am on July 23 and noticed the security gate was raised slightly. Shortly afterwards, Urban checked the restaurant’s security cameras remotely from home with his father, and saw a man fixing himself a drink at the bar and picking out a few bottles of wine.
It took a moment for him to realize that they were watching a crime in progress.
“I said to him, ‘that’s actually live right now!’” Urban recalled.
The two dialed 911, then rushed to the restaurant. When they threw open the gate, Urban said the suspect fled upstairs. The father and son pursued the accused up to the building’s third floor. There, the alleged perpetrator turned and ran down a side staircase and out onto the street — just as the cop cars pulled up in front.
“We chased him out of the restaurant into the hands of the police,” said Urban.
Authorities allege that the 47-year-old man they apprehended was also behind the June 23 break-in at Mezcal’s on Third Avenue between 75th and 76th streets, the July 12 invasion of Sally & George’s on Third Avenue between 78th and 79th streets, and the burglary of Hunter’s Steak and Ale House on Fourth Avenue between 94th and 85th streets on July 14. All of the restaurants suffered a similar style of break-in, with the perpetrator entering through the front door.
Authorities did not charge the man with two recent break-ins of Circles Cafe at the corner of 69th Street and Third Avenue.
Thieves looted Circles twice in the last month. The first pillaging — which did not match the pattern at the other eateries — occurred on June 30. A manager who declined to give his name said that he left a window open while closing up at 2 am. When he returned five and a half hours later, he saw the screen was sliced open and two lockboxes in the back office were emptied of $500. Then on July 20, a crook broke in through the front door like at the other restaurants — and took another $300 from the office. The restaurant said manager he believed the incidents were the work of two different villains.
“We’re just assuming they weren’t related,” he said.
And a few restaurant raiders might still be on the loose. Sally & George’s owner George Dokmaji said his security cameras showed three ne’er-do-wells breaking and entering his front door. And Urban said that Schnitzel Haus’s surveillance tapes show the burglar working in concert with a look-out posted in front of the restaurant. The scout failed in his job, as the video recorders caught him turning tail and running when the Urbans approached. The accomplices remain on the loose.
The suspect in the attempted Schnitzel Haus heist faces four charges each of burglary, criminal mischief, petty larceny, trespassing, and possession of stolen property.
The 68th Precinct did not respond to repeated calls for comment.