Armando Markaj couldn’t help but wonder what kind of person would stiff their waiter and then misplace a check worth half a million dollars. Maybe it was karma?
As Today reports, the 27-year-old from New York City is waiting tables at Patsy’s Pizzeria while working his way through medical school. On May 4, he waited on 79-year-old Karen Vinacour and her daughter at lunch.
The walls of Patsy’s are adorned with photos of famous guests, and Vinacour and her daughter asked their waiter why there weren’t many pictures of women among them. In response, Markaj simply shrugged and said, “Maybe women don’t eat a lot of pizza?”
His response annoyed Vinacour so much that they decided not to leave him a tip.
“Well, my daughter’s kind of feisty, and she didn’t like that,” Vinacour told the New York Daily News. “So we didn’t tip him.”
After Vinacour left, Markaj went to clean the table. He saw they hadn’t left him a tip but had accidentally left behind an important-looking envelope. Though he would usually throw away discarded items, he stopped when he saw that it was from the bank. He told the Daily News:
“Saturdays are pretty busy, and I was very close to taking everything left on the table and throwing it out when I saw an envelope. I just pulled up the flap and I saw ‘Citibank’ and thought it was important, so I ran out to the street to look for her, but she was gone.”
When Markaj looked more carefully at what Vinacour had left behind, he discovered it was a cashier’s check for $424,000.
The waiter gave the check to the restaurant owner for safe-keeping. Both were sure the owner of the check would return for it and assumed that she must be “a billionaire or something” to be walking around with so much money.
Meanwhile, Vinacour had discovered the check was missing and panicked. She called Patsy’s Pizzeria to ask if it had been found but accidentally phoned the wrong location.
“I was stunned,” she told NBC 4. “I mean, it was really emotional. I was crying.”
Contrary to Markaj’s assumption, Vinacour is far from wealthy. The retired social worker had recently sold her apartment. The cashier’s check represented the proceeds from that sale and most of her life savings, which she was hoping to use as a down payment on a new home.
Vinacour first went to the bank to try to stop the check but was told it was impossible:
“They said they couldn’t immediately cancel it because it was a cashier’s check. I would have to wait at least three months before they could even start the process, and only if someone didn’t cash it in the meantime.”
Vinacour tried to retrace her steps. Her daughter began searching through the trash. She called the realtor she’d visited that day, then the coffee shop she’d been in before going out for pizza.
Markaj and the restaurant owner, Frank Brija, were concerned that no one had come in search of the check.
“I thought for sure it won’t be long. Even a billionaire would miss that much money,” Brija told the Daily News. He began a search for the owner, asking his son to Google Vinacour’s name.
When that didn’t work, Brija reached out to the Daily News and asked for help finding the check’s owner. It only took a few minutes to track her down.
As soon as she heard her check had been found, Vinacour jumped in a taxi and went right to Patsy’s Pizzeria. When she walked in the door, she immediately apologized to Markaj for how they treated him and offered him a belated tip.
Markaj accepted the apology but declined the tip.
The waiter says that he’s happy for Vinacour. And she’s extremely grateful for him. She told NBC 4:
“What an amazing young man. He could have thrown it in the garbage. I mean, he had that option of throwing it in the garbage, because we were not very nice to him.”
Brija also showed Vinacour some of the photos of influential women hanging on the restaurant walls that she might have missed when she was there before. He promised that the next time she visits, her own picture will be hanging there as well.
And there will be a next time. Vinacour is still planning to make it up to Markaj by coming back, ordering lots of food, and leaving him a hefty tip.