If you’re wondering what the going rate for a man-sized chilli pepper is, Daniel Helfrich will tell you it costs four Powerade bottles and a smile.
But his joy of owning such a massive fake fruit burned in the end because it only took perpetrators two days to steal his prized pepper.
On July 16, Helfrich and his girlfriend, Ellen Toneff, were out for lunch at the Chili’s on Archer Road when they saw the plump pepper perched on the parking lot.
“Chili’s was doing some renovations and the giant chili was sitting outside,” Helfrich said, a 19-year-old UF classics junior.
They joked about the idea of taking it home — but talking about it just wasn’t enough.
The manager told them to speak with the renovation crew and that’s when they started bartering.
Helfrich offered some ice cream, but instead, the parched workers wanted something to drink. So Helfrich brought them two blue and two yellow bottles of Powerade.
He then called his friend “Cool Kyle” to help hoist the 200-pound pepper into the back of his pickup truck.
“We hauled it off in the rain,” Toneff said, a 21-year-old UF biology senior.
A chili of such size couldn’t possibly fit through the front door of his Pavilion on 62nd apartment, so Helfrich and his crew decided to hoist it to his balcony with ropes.
“We had to have two ropes,” Toneff said. “The railing was about to break.”
Unable to get it to his balcony, Helfrich left the pepper on his neighbor’s first-floor balcony, tied up, to discourage anyone from taking it.
That night, the culprits struck.
The ropes holding it were cut, and the chili was gone before Helfrich even woke up.
He went to work, business as usual, and was unaware that the chili was even missing. A friend told him later that the balcony where they placed it was empty.
“It survived one night,” Helfrich said.
He filed a police report to find his priceless pepper on Tuesday.
The apartment complex has a gated entrance where a guard takes information from new visitors.
“Someone snuck it past the security guard,” Toneff said. She doesn’t know how a giant chili could slip by the guarded gate.
Helfrich took to Facebook’s “UF Class of 2016” thread to post that he was missing the chili and that a reward was in store for a successful return — fittingly with a Chili’s gift card valued at $20.
“I had the chili for two days,” Helfrich said. “But that is the most likes on Facebook I’ve ever had.”
Helfrich had big plans for the chili, like spicing it up with Christmas lights to have as decoration on his balcony. Helfrich and his friends usually “do it big” for the holidays, so having the pepper would have meant a lot to them.
“He’s really sad and wants his chili back,” Toneff said about her boyfriend.
[A version of this story ran on pages 1 - 4 on 7/24/2014 under the headline "UF student feels the burn after man-sized chili gets stolen"]
Daniel Helfrich, a 19-year-old UF classics junior, stands beside his newly bartered red pepper in the parking lot of Chili’s on Archer Road before it went missing.