La Cabana stiffed by scofflaw

Martin Espinosa, owner of La Cabana Restaurant in Menominee, said the restaurant on occasion serves a customer who leaves without paying. When it happens, he calls the police.

EagleHerald Staff Writer

Being nice only gets a restaurant owner so far.

If customers skip out on a restaurant bill, expect them to get caught. They might just get a pair of cuffs slapped around their wrists. They also could land in jail.

Martin Espinosa, owner of La Cabana, at 2812 10th St. in Menominee, let Randell Wayne Tipler, 60, walk out of his restaurant without paying Oct. 21 after he said he forgot his wallet. “He pretended like he didn’t have his wallet,” Espinosa said.

So Espinosa told Tipler, “You can walk out. But I’ve got to call the cops.”

“They never come back,” Espinosa said. “I gave him a half hour. He was going to go back and get his wallet and then he would pay.” Tipler’s bill at La Cabana was over $90 for drinks and fish tacos.

Instead of returning to pay, Tipler went to The Watermark Restaurant and Bakery next door, where he also is accused of skipping out without paying. Tipler allegedly hit five area restaurants over four days in October, drinking excessively, according to police reports.

“The guy’s going everywhere, just ordering up food,” said Tim Murray, owner of The Watermark, Pirate’s Cove and Murray’s Irish Pub and Grille in Menominee. “My thought was he was homeless and lives at one of the shelters.” Police did not provide an address for Tipler or information about his whereabouts, and the EagleHerald was unable to reach him for comment.

Menominee police picked up Tipler Oct. 21 at The Watermark restaurant, handcuffed him and arrested him. He was taken to Aurora Bay Area Medical Center with chest pains and difficulty breathing and admitted, according to police. But he didn’t stay long, because police cited him for theft at a restaurant the following day.

It was the fourth day in a row that Tipler allegedly ate and drank without paying and was cited.

Police took notice Oct. 19 when Tipler allegedly drank and ate at the Eastside Bar in Marinette. He said he lost his wallet and would come back later to pay, according to a Marinette Police report. Other restaurants have heard the same story.

Earlier the same week, on Oct. 20, Tipler allegedly ordered three double shots of Jameson liquor and three Heineken beers at Pirate’s Cove on 1st Street in Menominee before telling the waitress he couldn’t pay because he didn’t have any money on him. The waitress asked him to leave several times before police were called.

Menominee police arrested Tipler for a bond violation and cited him for trespassing and defrauding an innkeeper. When police entered his name into the computer system, they found two felony warrants from Ohio and two from Wisconsin.

He was taken to Menominee County Jail, where test results showed a blood alcohol level of 0.166.

Then on Oct. 22, he allegedly stole $81.75 in food and alcoholic beverages from Applebee’s in Marinette. He consumed five beers and five whiskeys plus a $10 order of boneless wings and $15 in chicken and shrimp, a police report said. Marinette police found him at Walmart and issued a citation.

For restaurant owners, scofflaws are an unfortunate part of what is a difficult business to start with. “You’re issuing credit to people,” Murray said. To avoid the issue, waitresses ask to scan a credit card when they start a tab for a customer.

“Most people if we know who they are, we’re going to grant that tab. If we don’t know who they are, we don’t do it. We don’t grab that tab,” Murray said. He’s not sure how Tipler persuaded the waitress to keep serving him.

Some scofflaws are young people who think it’s a game, he said. “They look for the pattern of how the servers are working. When the server disappears, that’s when they walk to the door,” he said.

For others, it’s a cry for help. “They want us to call the police, so we do call the police,” he said.

“We’re kind of attuned to it. In the past couple of months, we’ve caught a couple people with rather large bills,” Murray said.

“It’s every business man’s obligation to collect on the debt. So it’s our obligation,” Murray said. “If we didn’t, it would be more widespread.”