TAMPA — As South Tampa snores, a serial burglar has been smashing into neighborhood eateries, apparently in search of cash.
Luck hasn't been on his side.
Much of the time, alarms scare him or he leaves empty-handed. Restaurants avoid keeping cash overnight.
Thursday, he neglected to cover his face before the first security camera caught him in the act, invading Kalupa's Bakery & Deli on MacDill Avenue.
Within hours, police released surveillance video, alleging that he also broke into nearby Datz and Subway, and that he had hit six other restaurants last month.
"He's hit a lot of restaurants," said Datz owner Suzanne Perry. "But it won't last long because he was very photogenic last night."
Surveillance videos show images of the burglar's face as he approaches Kalupa's and knocks on the door. When no one answers, he pulls out a rod, looks around and covers his face with his shirt.
At Datz, a camera catches him rifling through drawers in an office.
Perry said nothing was taken from her restaurant Thursday morning, but repairing smashed windows and a broken computer terminal will be expensive. Datz was also burglarized in July. That time the thief took off with tips, she said.
Still, the loss of money is not her concern.
"My employees are afraid of coming to work," she said.
So far, the man hasn't attacked anyone. But often intruders are addicted to drugs or for other reasons desperate for cash, said police spokeswoman Andrea Davis.
"If that is the case, we want to catch him before he does something violent," Davis said.
Davis suggests that all servers walk in pairs to their cars and encourages South Tampa residents to keep an eye out for suspicious people.
The burglar is described as a Hispanic male in his 30s to 40s, about 170 pounds. Some witnesses say he appears to have a receding hairline and perhaps acne scars, she said.
The Kalupa's owner said even though the burglar took off with a little bit of cash, her main concern was the costly window replacement.
"He couldn't have broken the door," said Susan Kalupa. "No, he had to smash the custom window."
Kalupa said she had heard about Datz's previous break-in and initially was not overly concerned. But with this recent rash, she said it appears area restaurant owners need to be more watchful.
"This person has really been hitting South Tampa," she said.
Brady Lindquist, the manager of a Beef O'Bradys a few blocks south of Datz, said he's worried. He's hopeful the restaurant's alarm system will ward off any would-be criminals and plans to continue escorting servers to their cars.
The burglar's mode of operation is consistent. Police say he's hit only restaurants, mostly along MacDill, Howard Avenue, Kennedy Boulevard and on Davis Islands.
In each case, he uses either a rod or brick to smash a window. Sometimes he pries open interior doors. At one restaurant, he took off with liquor.
On July 23, he smashed a sliding glass door to break into Royal Palace Thai. He found about $200 in the cash drawer, said owner Randall Knowles.
Police have attributed nine break-ins to the same man, though there may be more. The restaurants named by police include those with surveillance cameras or where a witness provided a good description.
The restaurants broken into in July were Estela's Mexican Restaurant, Royal Palace Thai, 717 South, the Bungalow, Miguel's Mexican Restaurant and Rick's Italian Cafe.
Police urge anyone with information to call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-873-8477 or report online at crimestopperstb.com.
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at (813) 226-3433 or firstname.lastname@example.org.