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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Frustration builds at Midtown hotspot Italian Gator Pizza amid ongoing theft incidents

Stealing from the restaurant has become a ‘challenge’ for many students

Italian Gator in Midtown serves late-night slices to students Sept. 8, 2023.
Italian Gator in Midtown serves late-night slices to students Sept. 8, 2023.

The fan-favorite restaurant Italian Gator Pizza has lured students for 23 years with its tantalizing combination of greasy aromas and savory pizza, making it a staple in the bustling Midtown food scene. However, some customers have taken more than just a slice of pizza from the popular walk-up restaurant.

For more than four years, students have stolen signs and condiment shakers from the beloved pizza restaurant — located at 1728 W University Ave. — often stuffing items down their pants or shoving a parmesan shaker in their purses. 

The restaurant has increased its security measures following the ongoing battle with students, who continue to post on social media and encourage others to steal from the business. 

Italian Gator Pizza manager and 22-year-old UF graduate Britton McLeavy said people have been stealing from the business as long as it has been open. 

“It started happening here when I started working here, over four years ago,” McLeavy said. “Usually, once or twice a week, we'd get our shakers stolen.”

According to McLeavy, the store’s iconic sign featuring its menu and prices was stolen two times in Spring 2023 during fraternity events and rush week. Students also repeatedly attempt to steal condiment shakers and other items from the restaurant almost every day. 

The events have been a factor in the price changes on the menu, providing the business with the opportunity to put up a new sign and accommodate rising food costs, McLeavy said. 

“It gave us a reason to replace the sign,” he said. “Our sign went down, so it pushed us over to be able to change prices. The prices originally were just raising due to rising costs, but it gave us the extra push. We needed to do it sooner rather than later.”

McLeavy and the restaurant’s staff believe the primary culprits are freshmen and fraternity members looking to play a mischievous joke. 

According to Kevin Vilorio, a 22-year-old UF political science major and Italian Gator Pizza employee, the fraternities have created an ongoing joke to encourage students to steal the restaurant’s sign during fraternity events. 

Employees even saw a picture on social media of the stolen sign inside a frat house, and someone posted a picture of a stolen parmesan shaker on Yik Yak, Vilorio said. 

“It’s a meme,” he said. “Sometimes it's like a challenge on fraternity sign night.” 

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Employees said they do not know who has been posting these pictures or which fraternities have been stealing the items, given that all social media posts have been anonymous. 

However, employees have witnessed first-hand students stealing, causing them to ask for the items back politely. 

Steven Camacho, a 22-year-old employee at the restaurant, said he has seen people steal shakers from the window and run away. 

“I’ve seen two guys steal something and giggle in the corner about it,” Camacho said. “They have to realize it contributes to the rising costs, so every time a sign gets stolen, prices go up.” 

The repeated incidents have led the restaurant to set up a new security system, with a security screen and additional cameras to prevent people from stealing items. Employees have also begun to bring the condiment shakers inside and have stopped replacing them as quickly, with the hopes of saving money and materials.  

Aside from the frustration it has caused employees and workers, causing them to spend more money and time replacing items, the frequent occurrences have upset customers. 

“I can see how it can be frustrating for other customers,” Vilorio said. “When someone steals it, then we just don't have another shake for the rest of the night or until we can get new ones. We get a lot of people who complain … It's mostly frustrating for the customers that have to experience no condiments on their pizza.”

If any students find themselves stumbling upon a comically large pizza menu in a fraternity house, let it be a reminder of the ongoing struggle between fraternity members, parmesan cheese shakers and signs that don’t belong to them. 

Contact Alexandra Burns at aburns@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @alexaburnsuf.

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