It’s common knowledge that servers usually rely on tip money to top up a pretty small salary, and often younger servers are doing their job to help put them through school or achieve other smart goals. So usually it’s polite practise to tip them, even if they didn’t do a stellar job.
Karen Vinacour and her daughter felt as though a tip wasn’t warranted during their 2019 visit to a New York pizzeria, however. But when Vinacour accidentally left her life savings on the table, she definitely had second thoughts about her decision.
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Back in 2019, Vinacour and her daughter were having a slice for lunch at the famed New York eatery Patsy’s Pizzeria in East Harlem. Their server that day was Armando Markaj, a 27-year-old who was serving slices and other dishes to help put himself through medical school.
According to The New York Daily News, Vincour and her daughter questioned why there weren’t more photos of women on the walls. When the server shrugged and said, “Maybe women don’t eat a lot of pizza?” she and her daughter were put off.
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“Well, my daughter’s kind of feisty and she didn’t like that,” Vinacour said, as per the Post. “So we didn’t tip him.”
Instead, she and her daughter gathered up their things and left. Unfortunately, they left one very important thing behind: a Citibank check for $424,000.
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As Markaj was clearing off the table, he nearly threw out the folded piece of paper. But he caught the word “Citibank” and unfolded it at the last second. When he saw the sum printed on the inside, he was shocked.
Normally we just put things left behind in the lost and found box in the back. But I wasn’t going to do that with almost half a million dollars.
Markaj ran outside but the mother-daughter duo had left. So he handed it over to the restaurant’s owner, Frank Brija.
“We thought for sure it was a billionaire or something who came in here, because who walks around with a check like that?” he said.
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As it turned out, Vinacour was using the money for a down payment on a condo she had seen in the area. The money was the retired 79-year-old social worker’s life savings. She and her daughter had been looking at the condo and stopped at Patsy’s for a quick lunch afterward.
“We’d pulled out my papers to go through all the financials again,” Vinacour explained to the publication. “I had no idea we left it behind.”
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The next night she realized the check was missing and called her daughter. Her daughter went through the trash and called the realtor and bank, but they couldn’t put a stop on the check for three months. And that was only if no one cashed it in. Vinacour’s realtor also called Patsy’s, but unbeknownst to her, she called the wrong location and they didn’t know anything about a check.
“My world just collapsed,” Vinacour said.
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Markaj and Brija were determined to do the right thing, and when no one came in to ask for the check they decided to take matters into their own hands. They began googling Karen Vinacour’s name. When that didn’t yield any results they went to the New York Daily News and asked for help. Thankfully, they were able to successfully track her down.
“I can’t believe it, I’m so relieved. You have no idea,” Vinacour said on the phone when the News called her from the restaurant. “I’m jumping in a cab, I’ll be there right away.” When she arrived, she immediately said she felt awful for not tipping and explained her reasons why. She then offered to tip Markaj the proper 20 percent, but he declined.
I’m happy for her, really. It was just karma for them.
Vinacour, who apologized to the server in person, laughed at that. “I believe in karma too,” she said. “I guess that’s what helped get me back to you.”
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As for those photos on the walls? After Brija showed Vinacour some of the women whose photos she had missed the first time around (Barbara Walters, First Lady Chirlane McCray and former City Council Speakers Christine Quinn and Melissa Mark-Viverito), he had her pose with himself, his son and Markaj.
“We’re going to take a picture here today with you, and I’m going to put that on the wall, too,” he said. “So there will be one more.”
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Markaj could have been bitter about a lack of tip, or really he could have pocketed that money the day he found it. Instead, he wanted to be true to himself and do the right thing, which is why he and the pizzeria owner worked so hard to find the money’s rightful owner. They didn’t know it would be a person’s life savings, they just knew it wasn’t theirs and they wanted to do the right thing — with or without a tip.
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It’s a nice little reminder for all of us that when you see a lost wallet, keys, phone or other valuables to try and return the items rather than ignore them or even pocket them. You never know what a thing is worth to another person, whether that’s $100 for groceries, an invaluable hidden family photo in a wallet flap, or some other item you’d never even think of.
Markaj’s actions also remind us to try not to judge others for how they act or to take it personally when they react to you in a negative way. Sometimes people like Vinacour, who was buying a condo, are just having a stressful day. Staying true to yourself and remaining positive is always the better option. After all, you never know how it might all come around full circle as this story did.
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“One of your most prized possessions is integrity; you should never compromise it.” – Byron Pulsifer
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