Steal another challenge after COVID
CHAT on CHARITY: Your talents can help your neighbors get through the COVID-19 crisis
How has COVID-19 affected the way we help our neighbors? Chunky Wigs with Volunteers of America and Friends of Clementon Food Pantry chat on the NJ Press Pass, December 10, 2020.
Carly Q. Romalino, Celeste E. Whittaker and Chris LaChall, Cherry Hill Courier-Post
MONROE – Glenn Gross and his family business, Fat Jack’s barbecue, struggled at first when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down restaurants, but it quickly closed the Black Horse Pike storefront to indoor dining and successfully pivoted to take-out and delivery .
It weathered the crisis better than many other restaurants have been able to and, Gross noted with more than a little pride, without laying off any of his dozen or so employees.
The business that Gross and his son Kevin own faced another crisis earlier this year, when Gross suffered a series of strokes and had subsequent brain surgery, from which he is still recovering. Kevin came from his South Carolina home to run the business while his father focused on his recovery.
But now there’s another challenge to overcome, and this one isn’t as random as a new virus or a stroke: Smoker Fat Jack’s uses to cook his breast, ribs, chicken, bran. beef and pork was stolen Sunday night, with someone taking what Gross described as “the lifeline of this place”.
“It wasn’t easy,” admitted Dorothy McClave, Glenn Gross’ girlfriend. Kevin, she said, is “extremely upset and devastated” by the theft, angry at the loss of such an important part of his family’s livelihood.
The smoker, hitched to a trailer with a heavy metal boot to prevent theft, has already been stolen once, about five years ago, McClave said. Social media posts and local media coverage led to a tip and he was recovered, although no one was arrested or charged with theft.
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Gross has owned Fat Jack’s since 1992; he franchised restaurants for a while, but said he had gradually closed them, unhappy with franchisees who he said were not performing up to his standards.
It’s been in the storefront at the south end of White Horse Pike for about two years, with a small but welcoming storefront in a mall that also includes a Dollar General, a car wash, a CVS, and other small businesses like a cashier’s check, a gym and a pizzeria.
With the restaurant still closed for indoor dining, the family is renovating an old Pizza Hut building on the Black Horse Pike in Turnersville, which has much more space to accommodate customers.
But the smoker’s theft is going to be a serious blow to business right now, Gross said. And he doesn’t know who would or could steal such a large piece of equipment – or why. He doesn’t think it was a former employee, and McClave said most of Fat Jack’s employees are young people leaving on good terms, for new jobs or for college.
Both believe, however, that the thief (s) planned the crime. They had to do it, Gross said.
âIt’s huge, about a 3,000 pound piece of equipment,â he said. “It would take a tray and a forklift to get it out of here like they did.”
There was nothing left behind – the boot intended to hold it in place was presumably still attached, and no debris or physical evidence was visible. He is hoping the cameras mounted around the building might have caught someone or something, but so far video footage from the check cashing business has revealed nothing. They are waiting for the police to examine the surveillance systems of other companies. (A call to the Monroe Township Police Department was not immediately returned on Tuesday.)
For now, Gross’s friend and former business partner, Ed Willis, who owns Lumpy’s BBQ in ClÃ©menton, offered to use his smoker to keep Fat Jack running. The arrangement, while useful, will squeeze both companies, gross worries.
But, McClave noted, Fat Jack’s is heading into its busiest season, and they were hoping it could make up for the early losses from the pandemic, and recent increases in food prices, especially breast and wings. chicken, which cut Fat Jack’s bottom line.
âFather’s Day is one of our busiest days of the year,â she said.
âWe have a lot of graduation parties coming up,â said Gross, who noted that catering is a big part of Fat Jack’s business. “And July 4th. All summer, really. It’s just income.”
An insurance claim was filed, he added, but a salesperson brought bad news: replacing the smoker with a new one could take six to eight weeks. A new smoker will not have the same “seasoning” as the old one, which will affect Fat Jack’s award-winning walnut flavors.
âAll the flavor is in the walls,â said Gross, who has appeared on Food Network, Fox29 and on WIP and NJ 101.5 radios.
Gross has been grateful for the support of his clients, not only through the pandemic and its health crises, but also now, with theft. A surge of sympathy flooded Fat Jack’s Facebook page.
But, he said, “I just want my smoker back.”
Phaedra Trethan has been a journalist and editor in South Jersey since 2007 and has covered Camden and the surrounding area since 2015, focusing on issues related to quality of life and social justice. She has lived in South Jersey since 1971. Contact her to share your comments, news or questions about [email protected], on Twitter @By_Phaedra, or by phone at 856.486-2417.
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