The ashes of two members of a longtime family ice cream business were stolen during a burglary on Saturday at Peninsula Creamery Dairy Store and Grill in downtown Palo Alto. The burglar also took $4,000 belonging to a husband and wife who work there, business owner James Santana said.
The April 3 burglary was the second break-in in the space of two days to hit local ice cream stores. Rick's Rather Rich Ice Cream at 3946 Middlefield Road was burglarized on April 1, resulting in significant property damage and the theft of employee tips, cash and iPads, the manager said.
The burglary of Peninsula Creamery Dairy Store at 900 High St., a popular lunch spot for downtown workers, occurred between Friday at 11 p.m. and Saturday at 5 a.m., Santana said. The thief or thieves kicked in a door to the kitchen and ransacked the office. Store cash and a jar of employees' tips was stolen along with the bags of ashes of Santana's father, John Jr., who died in 2018 and brother, Mark, who died in 2004. Both had worked at the family store.
The burglars removed the bags containing their ashes from their memorial boxes but left the boxes in the store. One bag was later recovered after someone found it next to the road at Coleridge Avenue and Cowper Street. The other bag is still missing, he said.
"It's more psychologically upsetting that someone invades your place" than that money was taken, he said.
Santana's daughter, Brooke, organized a GoFundMe page for employees Yolandita Loaiza and her husband, who saw all of their tips for 2021 vanish in the burglary.
"They were using the tip jar as a kind of piggy bank, trying to save the tips for their family," James Santana said.
Kiki Khosla, manager and co-owner with her family of Rick's Rather Rich Ice Cream in the Charleston Shopping Center in south Palo Alto, said her employees also lost tips. They were stolen after a lone burglar gained entrance through the rear of the locked building and smashed a door window to access a locked office. The man, who wore a beanie and had a neck gaiter pulled up over his face to conceal his identity, was captured on surveillance video. He ransacked the business and threw everything onto the floor. He took the employee tips, coins the business used for change and two iPads.
"Yup, That's about $3,000 to $4,000 in cash or change," Khosla said.
The business doesn't usually keep that much cash on hand, but it accumulated during the pandemic, she said.
Besides the theft, the store also incurred costly damage. The burglar not only smashed the office-door window, but he damaged computers and other electronics. He also detached a secured safe and carried it out the back door before abandoning it. The break-in was recorded on Thursday at about 12:10 a.m.
It was discovered at about 10 a.m., with the doors wide open and the safe outside, she said.
The theft and damage comes after a year of hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.
"The business is definitely greatly impacted. We're a small, family-run business with only one store. It's our bread and butter here," she said.
The pandemic closures, combined with an ice cream store being a mostly seasonal business, caused the store to not be able to pay rent and utilities during the winter. A GoFundMe page was set up last year to help with costs, she said.
"With this happening, it's more like a safety concern," she said. "We felt so safe in this neighborhood."
Now she's worried about her girls on staff.
"It doesn't feel safe to be here physically. We're asking people to keep an eye out," she said.
Four days later, the ice cream store is open but the workers are still cleaning up and repairing the damage.
"There is so much damage in the office. It's very disheartening," she said.
Both store owners reported the crimes to the Palo Alto police, according to daily police logs.
A third ice cream store, the Palo Alto Baskin-Robbins at 2615 Middlefield Road, was robbed at gunpoint about two weeks ago on March 22. Police arrested a man on March 24 for the robbery, which they said is related to 12 other armed robberies of Baskin-Robbins and Subway stores throughout the Bay Area.