JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. – An attorney representing Cruisers Grill said Thursday that the real losers in a feud sparked between the restaurant's owner and Jacksonville Beach police are the restaurant's employees.
News broke this week that the Jacksonville Beach police chief warned his officers in a memo not to eat at the popular local burger joint, because two officers reported that the owner, Robert Handmaker, claimed his employees were spitting in officers' food.
Attorney Mitch Stone, who represents Handmaker, said if his client made such a statement, it was done in anger.
“They don't spit in the food, and everyone knows that. That's why we are making sure that everyone is interviewed and there is no question,” Stone said. “The setup of that restaurant is such that you can't imagine somebody doing that and not being seen by somebody.”
The officers who reported Handmaker's alleged comments said that when they responded to a false alarm call at the restaurant Monday, Handmaker took the opportunity to complain to them about a ticket he'd received for an expired tag. He said the officer who issued the ticket was a bully and that he “should have received a warning, being that I'm a resident and business owner.”
The report said that when one officer said he couldn't resolve Handmaker's complaint, Handmaker told the officers that he was not surprised to hear that his employees had been spitting in the food of officers “because you all are bullies.”
The police report said the encounter ended with the officers leaving and Handmaker swearing at them.
Handmaker publicly denied the allegations.
“I am saddened to hear about the false rumor spread about Cruisers Grill, suggesting that police officers are not welcome in our restaurant,” he said this week.
Stone said his team is conducting its own investigation to verify what was actually said to the officers.
He said the people who are hurting because of the public feud are Cruisers employees, because customers are staying away.
“Having national news that suggests that when people visit Jacksonville Beach, their food is going to be spit in, is not good for anybody,” Stone said. “And what we want is to make sure that everyone understands that that's not happening.”
Stone said since the media reports of the feud broke, the restaurant has suffered vandalism, and employees have experienced verbal assaults and threats.
“This is a business that employs in excess of 50 local Jacksonville Beach residents and local area residents, some who’ve worked there 10-15 years, who rely upon their paychecks, who get benefits, they support their families by working there. They depend on those paychecks,” Stone said. “We have spoken to the people who work there. They’re good people and they assure us no one in that restaurant does anything improper to the food and the food preparation.”
Customer witnesses earlier outburst
A woman told News4Jax that she was in the restaurant last week and heard Handmaker yelling about the treatment he received from police when he was issued the ticket.
Lyndsey Nevin said she was in the restaurant Jan. 30 with her husband and two young children when
Handmaker started yelling about the ticket citing him for an expired tag.
“He was using all kinds of language, bad mouthing the cops, stating how he was going to mistreat them by charging them extra on their bill on top of taking away their discount,” Nevin said.
Nevin said what she witnessed was enough to keep her from returning to the restaurant.
“If he remembers my face, I'm afraid my food will get spit in,” she said. “That is not how you want to do business.”
Nevin initially posted about her encounter on Facebook, but later removed the post after she received a letter of apology from Handmaker that said there was “no excuse” for his language and that he regretted “that I exposed your children to such filth.”
Despite the apology, Nevin said she will no longer be a Cruisers patron.
“I have a lot of people I know on the Jacksonville Beach Police Department, and for him to mistreat the police like that, it's not anywhere where I want to support his business,” Nevin said. “And my family said they're not going to go back anymore, either.”
Handmaker was not available for comment Thursday, but said Wednesday that he had nothing more to say on the matter.