By Kristen Grieco
Wednesday was an ordinary day for restaurant owner Joe Scola, who was preparing for the lunchtime rush and filling a customer's bottomless $1 coffee when he heard his Pleasant Street restaurant's cellar door slam.
Within a few moments, he was locked in a confrontation with a prosciutto-wielding thief.
The slam of the door, located outside the restaurant, caught Scola's attention because he thought he was the only employee at the restaurant at the time.
When he glanced outside, he saw his waitress returning from a break. She asked him, "Who's that guy carrying the meat down the street?" Scola recounted yesterday.
It was that moment that Scola saw a man in his 30s, dressed all in black, running down Liberty Street with his arms full of meat from the restaurant's freezer.
When Scola caught up to the thief and turned to face him, he saw that he was carrying 20 pounds of frozen meat — two bags of linguica, a prosciutto log and a ham.
"What are you doing with my food?" Scola said he asked the suspect.
"I'm really hungry, man," the suspect replied.
Scola began to reclaim the meat, grabbing a bag of linguica and the ham. The suspect then raised the 5-pound, frozen solid log of prosciutto above his head, presumably to hit Scola.
"So I slammed him with the ham in the face," Scola said from his kitchen yesterday. The would-be thief, stunned and with a gouge on his face, dropped the meat and ran.
"I felt bad," Scola said of the suspect's injuries. "If he had come in and said he was hungry, I'd have given him a breakfast."
Scola doesn't believe the man was actually hungry, though. The meats would have taken two or three days to thaw and become edible and were likely of more value to sell than eat.
Scola, who opened the former Pleasant Street Cafe as Scola's Place just three weeks ago, said that an incident such as Wednesday's undermines his efforts to keep his prices low and give back to the community.
He usually donates leftover food to the Action Inc. shelter, he said, and on the day of the attempted robbery, brought a tray of spaghetti and meatballs there. Scola said that he collects his cans and bottles to give to a homeless man for redemption each week and would never deny a hungry person a breakfast.
"I'm not making a ton of money, but I still know how to give," Scola said.
In fact, he understands the plight of someone who is hungry.
"I was homeless at one time," the Gloucester native said. "I had nowhere to turn to, but I didn't steal."
After searching the area, police, who were called while Scola pursued the thief, could not turn up a suspect.