San Francisco coffee merchants cheer arrest of alleged tip jar thief 

San Francisco coffee shop merchants are cheering the arrest of an alleged thief they say has been dipping his mitts into tip jars citywide.

Odis Jack Gillard, 63, a South of Market resident, was arrested Sunday after an employee chased him down the street for allegedly snaking a wad of cash from the tip jar at Cafe Divis at 359 Divisadero St. He was charged with burglary and shoplifting, police said.

Gillard allegedly struck the coffee shop’s tip jar five times in two months, employee Will Armstrong said. The shop’s owner, Nabiel Musleh, said Gillard also struck Panini, another café he owns on Haight Street, two days before his arrest.

“He’s been on Haight Street for years and years,” Armstrong said. “Everybody knows him. He steals everybody’s tips.”

Kelly Williams, who works at Bean Bag Café at 601 Divisadero St., said she’s keen on Gillard’s scheme. Employees at the café hide their tip jars when they see him coming.

“I can see him from a mile away,” Williams said.

Williams said she hasn’t called the cops on Gillard because he’s a relatively harmless nuisance. Merchants say he walks with a shuffle, weaseling past customers in line to get at the tip jar, and is rather blatant about the thefts.

“It’s a quick shuffle,” said Armstrong, who chased Gillard down Sunday and called cops because he was “fed up” with the thefts.

Cops say Gillard helped himself to a soda before swiping the tips Sunday around noon. A customer reportedly hollered to Gillard, “Hey, they work hard for these tips!” Armstrong chased Gillard down Divisadero to Page Street. At first, Gillard returned $2, Armstrong said. He returned the rest of the tips after noticing Armstrong was calling police.

Responding cops soon arrested Gillard at Scott and Haight streets, police spokesman Officer Albie Esparza said.

Thefts from tip jars are a common problem citywide, Esparza said. The topic was addressed at a recent police Compstat meeting, where a police captain reported tip-jar theft issues on Polk Street.

Thieves strike restaurants, coffee shops and take-out joints, Esparza said. Many of the businesses don’t report the thefts to police, he said.

“Normally we just get into it and I chase him out the door,” Armstrong said.

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