PROVINCETOWN – It was a hot July afternoon when a woman walked into Twisted Pizza & Ice Cream with one thing on her mind: cheese.
Parmesan cheese. Of course. It had to be Parmesan cheese.
“The manager had just filled up the Parmesan cheese,” recalled Julie Knapp, the owner of Twisted. And yet, just five minutes later, customers were looking for cheese.
But the cheese had vanished, never to be seen again.
“We thought, wait a minute. We just filled it,” said Knapp. The restaurant gets buckets of the cheese and then employees fill the 30-ounce container for customers whenever necessary.
So on this hot July afternoon with a restaurant full of customers, including some who certainly like Parmesan cheese on their pizza, the container was no where in sight.
The manager, said Knapp, went immediately to the security camera, where he saw a video of a woman brazenly walking into the restaurant carrying two large bags, and then walking out with the Parmesan cheese.
After the thief entered and then walked through and scanned the place, she picked up one bottle, perhaps crushed red pepper. Then she put it down, dissatisfied. Later, she approached a woman eating at a table and appeared to ask to borrow her Parmesan cheese. The video shows the cheese hand-off. And then, just like that, the cheese thief exited.
It was a textbook cheese robbery, except for one thing: the video.
“If you look at it, she was just on a mission,” said Knapp about what she sees on the video. The police were never called, said Knapp. “People steal condiments all the time,” she said. This just happened to be caught on video.
And the video of the brazen cheese caper was posted on Facebook, where it garnered quite a bit of attention.
The thief seems to have brown hair in a ponytail, and wore a gray, sleeveless shirt on the day she pilfered cheese. She carried two big paper bags. What was in them? It now seems clear, they were meant to hold cheese.
Knapp, who posted the video, said, “Initially, I just wanted to let the other business owners know that there was someone stealing in town.”
But then the whole caper turned into an online discussion from funny to serious, including the question of what is small enough so that it is okay to steal. Knapp said she admitted to taking trial-size shampoo and conditioner from a hotel.
Others, she said, have joked about the valuable cheese at Twisted, even pretending to come in and order just a tub of Parmesan cheese. In fact, she said, during the recent Carnival celebration, she gave out little containers of cheese because so many people joke about the theft.
In Twisted on the last day of August, Bob Lefebvre of Phoenix, Arizona was eating ice cream when he was asked about the cheese robbery and he suggested that Parmesan cheese was the wrong kind of cheese. “It should have been nacho cheese, so you could have said, ‘That’s nacho cheese.’ ”
Those are the kind of jokes that the Great Parmesan Cheese Caper of 2015 have spawned.
Yet Knapp is quick to point out something that isn’t perhaps obvious to most people, including the thief. “We would have given it to her if she had just asked,” she said.
Knapp’s sentiment and compassion for the Parmesan cheese thief seems to come from the same place in her heart as a program of hers that we stumbled upon while researching this, one of the best crime stories we’ve heard of this year.
At Twisted Pizza, Knapp runs something called the Pending Pizza Program. Essentially, if you are a customer, you can buy a slice of pizza for someone else and leave it as a coupon. Someone hungry can actually stop in, grab a coupon, and get a slice of pre-paid pizza. It’s a sort of pass-it-forward-with-pizza program.
In addition, there is a Go Fund Me page for the program, which also helps provide pizza to families hit by illness, and others in need. According to Knapp, the Pending Pizza Program has already given away more than 1,200 slices of pizza.
The Parmesan cheese, however, is now kept tied up.
The thief has never been caught.
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— Brian Tarcy