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Recent incidents of vandalism, broken windows include restaurants

A woman stands, wearing an apron
Vanda Asapahu, chef and co-owner of Ayara Thai Cuisine, was recently the victim of a robbery in which thieves smashed in a glass door and took various items, including cash and two bottles of Thai iced tea.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)

An uptick in smash-and-grab robberies targeting retail operations across Los Angeles has generated headlines and debates about crime and punishment and resulted in 14 arrests. But it’s not only luxury and chain stores that have been targeted; local restaurateurs also are dealing with window smashing as they navigate pandemic restrictions and enter one of the most demanding seasons of the year.

At République in Mid-Wilshire, a large rock landed through the window just before Thanksgiving. One of the cafe-restaurant’s bakers, arriving around 2 a.m., encountered the broken front window and immediately called chef and co-owner Walter Manzke.

“We just hit eight years that we’re open at République, and we’ve never had any vandalism there,” Manzke said.

Manzke immediately drove to the restaurant to inspect the damage. Along the route on La Brea Avenue, he noticed trash cans tipped over but no damage to any of the businesses near République. Upon arrival, he concluded that the hole in the window was too small for entry, and he did not observe any other signs of vandalism. Security camera footage did not yield any useful images.

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The chef-owner did not file a police report, nor did he file an insurance claim; the initial $3,000 estimate to replace the window falls below his deductible. “Maybe I should have filed a police report, but it also seems like there’s so much going on in the world,” Manzke said, adding that there isn’t much to go on.

The staff at République is still working on the repair. The window was quickly boarded up and new glass ordered, but after it arrived, the complexity of the fix became more apparent. High benches are welded in place along the windows in front and might need to be cut to insert the glass, then rewelded, which Manzke believes could double the cost. As of Tuesday, the window was still boarded up.

In May 2020, a window was broken at Petty Cash Taqueria in Fairfax, another restaurant owned by Manzke and his wife and business partner, pastry chef Margarita Manzke, during protests after the murder of George Floyd. Walter Manzke wonders whether the more recent window smashing was the work of someone unhappy with the city’s new requirements for proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to enter restaurants. Some guests, he said, have given the République staff a difficult time over it.

According to LAPD data through Nov. 27, property crime is up 2.6% over the same period of 2020 but down 6.6% from 2019. The scattered restaurant vandalisms are occurring amid broader burglary and robbery trends that have captured attention across L.A., in which groups of people have smashed into high-end retailers to steal luxury items and crews have reportedly followed people home from shopping districts to rob them there. However, police officials on Tuesday did say that restaurants were among those places being targeted in the broader crime trends that have been flagged; in late November, a man was shot and killed outside Hollywood restaurant Bossa Nova in an attempted robbery.

A smashed window that says "Birdie G's"
A view of Birdie G’s smashed window in Santa Monica, before staff temporarily boarded it over.
(Birdie G’s)

During a meeting of the Police Commission on Tuesday, LAPD Chief Michel Moore said the department believes there is some overlap between the groups following people home and robbing them and those smashing into businesses. And, he said, police believe that restaurants are among the locations where such groups are scouting for potential targets. But spokespeople for both the Los Angeles and Santa Monica police departments said they had not identified an uptick in restaurant vandalism. “If there [are] no reports filed, we can’t speak on it,” said the LAPD spokesperson. Thus far, only a small number of restaurateurs have reported a window smashing or break-in; one of them is chef-owner Jeremy Fox.

Shortly after Thanksgiving, windows were broken at two of his restaurants, Birdie G’s and Tallula‘s, both in Santa Monica. Fox said he and his staff “know what happened with Tallula’s” but would not elaborate. He believes the vandalism at Tallula’s is unrelated to the window smashing at Birdie G’s. He filed a police report for each incident.

“It’s not a common thing; we don’t have vandalism often,” Fox said. “It’s never a good time, but right now [because of the pandemic], our margins are slim. Our time is not best spent repairing something that shouldn’t have to be repaired. It’s pulling focus away from what we want to be focusing on, which is making people happy and being a restaurant.”

The only security camera that captured the incident at Birdie G’s included footage of a masked figure throwing a rock through the window at 5:10 a.m. Nov. 27 and then walking away. There were no signs of entry or burglary. A porter noticed the broken window on arrival around 7 a.m.; later, the window was boarded up and covered in wrapping paper and a red bow.

Birdie G's smashed window covered in wrapping paper and a bow
After an assailant threw a rock through a window at Birdie G’s, assistant general manager Keely Obbards covered the boarded-up window in wrapping paper and a bow for the holidays.
(Brian Jacobs/Birdie G’s)

The window at Tallula’s took only a few days to replace, but the repair at Birdie G’s most likely will take weeks. Fox said the rock shattered only the front layer of double-paned glass, but because of a custom window tint, it will take a bit longer and cost roughly $1,500 to replace. After posting about the broken window on his Instagram account, Fox received multiple responses suggesting it was his “punishment for the vaccine mandate.” He too has had a few customers unhappy about the vaccine checks but he says most have been supportive and compliant.

Another chef whose restaurant was burgled after a glass door was smashed Nov. 23 is so used to this type of vandalism that she’s started to include window replacement in her annual operating costs.

Security camera footage showed a hooded and masked assailant hurling a rock through the glass front of Ayara Thai Cuisine in Westchester, then kicking out the glass and entering at 5:06 a.m. All the owners could glean from the footage was that the intruder was probably male; taken were $30 in rolled coins, roughly $100 stashed in a filing cabinet and two bottles of Thai iced tea. Cash isn’t usually kept in the restaurant overnight, an owner said, and most people pay digitally or with a card, so there’s nothing in the till.

A neighbor noticed the smashed glass around 6 a.m. and called the owners.

“It could have been much worse. No one was hurt, nothing was really taken,” said Vanda Asapahu, who runs the restaurant with her parents and siblings. “It’s just part of business. It’s sad to think of it like that, but you kind of have to move on. If you dwell on it for too long, there’s nothing that you can bring back, and you lose time.”

The Asapahus say the annual break-in at the restaurant usually occurs between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

After they learned of the incident, Asapahu and her mother drove to the site, and she, her husband and the restaurant’s general manager began reviewing security footage. Asapahu called the nonemergency LAPD line but could not reach a representative to file a claim; she says she probably will at some point. It happens so often, she says, that as long as her staff isn’t hurt, she isn’t as concerned.

Three women stand, wearing aprons
Sisters Kathy, left, Vanda, right, and their mother, Angkana Asapahu, say their restaurant’s windows are shattered annually.
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)

The glass door was replaced by 4 p.m., at a cost of about $500. The restaurant used to have an alarm system, but Asapahu said the monthly service cost, plus additional fees for false alarms triggered by a sensitive system, exceeded the annual expense of just replacing windows.

“I’ve had friends ask me, ‘Don’t you want to put bars on windows or get one of those rolling gates?’” said Asapahu. “And I’m like, ‘Really?’ Once you do it, your neighbors will do it, and your community will change into that. I really don’t like that, and it’s only once a year. There’s really nothing that’s lost. I kind of built it into my business plan that we’ll replace the glass every year. If there’s a scratch on the glass, don’t worry. We’ll replace it soon, probably Quarter 4.”

Times staff writer Kevin Rector contributed to this report.


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