I’m a pastor’s wife. I’m a high school teacher (for one more week before I become a stay at home mother of one living in Utah). I was an honor student in high school and graduated from Point Loma Nazarene University with pretty decent grades. A competitive swimmer for ten years, I lettered during all four high school seasons. I’ve been on stage or behind the scenes of numerous plays. By all accounts, I’m not exactly a thug. So, imagine my surprise today when I was thrown out of Melt with my pastor husband, my graduate student brother, my mother and my toddler son. Imagine my greater surprise when three security guards were sent to find out why I had been involved in an altercation.
So we’ve been staying with my grandparents during this whole evacuation situation and today we decided to head over to the mall for a little while. Parkway Plaza in El Cajon has their parking lot open for evacuees so the mall is a giant zoo of displaced families, high on smoke and emotion, looking to get out of the ash-filled air and chill for awhile. Regal Cinemas was giving away 700 free movie tickets—because they wanted to bring some cheer to the stressed masses. Of course, we couldn’t share in the good fortune because—well, ok, so we could have but no one likes a toddler in a movie theatre. My brother took Garrett on the carousel, we walked around, we spotted a friend from church sitting in a café. (I should explain that he was sitting at the first table in a deserted store, actually). It was Melt Gelato and Crepe Café, and I’ve always wanted to try it. It has a kind of chic, New York City feel and, in the past, when I walked by, I could almost see myself eating my tiramisu gelato (oh how I should have been born an Italian) over my laptop (very Carrie Bradshawesque). We entered the restaurant and while Troy, my brother and my mom went to talk with Ryan, I scanned the menu and made a mental note to ask if anyone wanted to share a gelato with me. I walked over to the group and chatted with Ryan about evacuations and where animals went and which houses in Ramona were confirmed destroyed. As I listened to him talk I gazed at advertisements on the wall for gelato to go. It was so beautiful. Why am I not Italian? I heard an Asian man behind me ask us if we’d purchased anything. The fact that he was Asian isn’t important other than to explain that the confusion during the following conversation was, in small part, because of a language barrier. It was, still, in large part, because the man was a complete idiot. We told him that, no, we had not bought anything but we were talking to our friend.
“You have to leave, you can’t stand here.”
“We’re just talking with our friend about the fires.”
“You need to get out now!”
“Are you serious?”
“You are not allowed to stand here.”
At this point my husband informed the employee that we would not be buying anything there ever. The man replied that we were not welcome to buy anything there. Then he went on to say that we wouldn’t let him into our home just to sit. Troy, who was getting really mad said, “You can come over to my house and help me sweep up all the ash.” What someone should have said was, “Wait, what? You live here?” or “If I even have a home! Ramona is burning, buddy!” But at this point he was yelling that if we didn’t leave he would call security. So, we, well, we did what any sensible person would do and we left. I mean, this was seriously like the Soup Nazi of Seinfeld fame. What we had here was the Gelato Gestapo. I’m so not even kidding. If there hadn’t been so many witnesses I honestly would have thought it was a hallucination.
Hallucination or not, I was getting angrier and angrier by the second. And I saw two people walk in to the café. And I honestly don’t know what possessed me but I quickly approached yelling, “Do not buy anything here. Please, they just threw us out.” I was really happy when the people who turned to look at me were people I knew. “Oh, I know you. Seriously, don’t eat here. They just threw me out for standing on their tile.” At this point the man behind the counter runs to get his cell phone and, as became apparent later, calls security.
We walked a few stores down and I told them what had happened. We talked about their family and whether their home was alright. And about five minutes later, security came strolling up. Not one guard. Not two guards. No no. I’m hard core. I’ve got the body of a linebacker and clearly I was carrying numerous firearms and threatening to steal gelato at gunpoint. I needed three security guards to hold me down. They asked if we’d been involved in an altercation at Melt. I told it like it was. And there were a whole lot of witnesses with the same story. At one point someone asked what we had done wrong.
“Well, it is considered loitering if you go in there and don’t buy anything.”
To which my friend said, “If I walked into Express and didn’t buy anything they wouldn’t throw me out for loitering!”
“Hmmm. Good point.”
It was at this point that my mother interjected, “You’ve got Regal Cinemas giving away 5600 dollars worth of free tickets and this guy down here won’t let someone stand on his tile for five minutes? I think he’s the one who needs to be talked to.”
They headed that way. It was probably just to pacify my mom but whatever. I would have understood if we’d been there for three hours—we were there for less than five minutes. I would have understood if I’d unrolled my sleeping bag and curled up for an autumn afternoon nap—no sleeping accouterments were involved. Even after calling security on me the man continued to stare me down where I stood, a good three stores away, not interrupting his business at all.
I sent a letter to their corporate headquarters. I just don’t think behavior like that is called for. It might not have been the best idea for me to start telling people not to buy things there—I’ll chalk it up to stress and exhaustion and dumbfoundedness—but I do think that their behavior warranted losing a couple of customers. In fact, I think their behavior warrants losing more than just a couple.
So I’m asking you, if you live in the San Diego area, not to give your money to Melt Gelato and Crepe Café in El Cajon. I’m not telling you never to eat at one again. After all, it’s stylish and you can feel like an Italian at best and a New Yorker at worst. But, next time you’re walking through the mall and you get a hankering for gelato, please think of me and my family, including my sweet little toddler son, getting thrown, without reason, from the shop, and don’t give them your business. Please?
*edited to add that I am currently having an email discussion with the President and CEO of Melt Gelato and he is appalled. I will keep everyone updated as to what occurs with this matter.