Sometimes, even when a restaurant does everything right, it’s not enough. The Union Kitchen at 12538 Memorial is outfitted with a monitored alarm system, blaring horns and ten surveillance cameras. That didn’t stop lowlife thieves from breaking into the place around 3:30 a.m. on Monday morning, right after Mother’s Day. They smashed in the front door with a baseball bat and were in and out in four minutes. Police missed catching the crooks by only two minutes.
Owner Paul Miller says they got away with 15 bottles of wine, including three bottles of Opus One, three bottles of Silver Oak, a few bottles from Brown Vineyards and some random, less expensive ones that happened to be nearby.
Even though there is insurance to protect the restaurant from theft and damage, the deductible is $2,500. The door repair and wine costs add up to around $3,000, and Miller sees no point in potentially affecting his insurance premium just to make a $500 claim.
Miller says he had an extensive conversation with police about why criminals hit up restaurants. “They can come in, sit down, order a drink and scope out what they want to steal, whether it is wine, alcohol or whatever. TVs are super-easy to fence. They can take those to a pawn shop with a fake ID. With liquor or wine, they can go downtown and just sell it. Even if they only get $10, $20 or $30 a bottle, that’s still $300 or $400 total in their pockets and they go about your merry way,” explained Miller.
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These were not just ordinary wines the thieves took to sell, though. Why make such an effort to take top-name brands? Miller says these could be resold to unethical restaurant owners or wine collectors. “I pay $220 for each bottle of Opus that I bring in,” he said. “You get someone who calls you up and says, ‘I have two bottles of Opus and I’ll sell them to you for $50 a piece,' and they may do it.”
There are a few bright spots to this story. First, no one was hurt, and Miller is grateful for that. “You hear so much, like the poor kid that was shot in Bellaire at the pizza joint — that’s just devastating,” he said. Second, glass vendor Corinthian got the front door glass cleaned up and replaced in time for The Union Kitchen to open for lunch as usual, so there was no loss of business.
Still, being robbed leaves victims feeling violated, and it put a pall on what had otherwise been a wonderful Mother’s Day for the restaurant. “You feel so victimized,” said Miller. “We gave the moms these infuser mugs — these nice cups — everybody loved them and was so thankful. The servers made money, so they’re walking out with big smiles on their faces. You leave the restaurant at the end of the shift with this big buzz, like, ‘Man, this is why I’m in the business. What a great day!’ Then, you’ve got some dirtbag that comes, doesn’t work their butt off all day long, breaks in, steals your stuff and it’s just kind of heartbreaking.”