Crowdfund page set up by loyal customers for robbed cafe is ‘oxygen’, owner says

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An Auckland suburb has banded together to help a cafe owner who was robbed three times in one night.

Rocky’s Restaurant and Cafe in Mount Albert was burgled on Sunday night, and thousands of dollars worth of items were stolen, including a laptop, two iPads, alcohol and $500 cash from the till and tip jar.

Owner Rocky Warnakulasuriya said his wife, Jeevani Thusitha, screamed when she saw the broken glass and mess at the cafe on Monday morning.

Warnakulasuriya, who lives with Thusitha and their daughters Sophie, 9, and newborn Layla, said this was the third time they had been robbed in the three years his business had been running.

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He said robberies were common in the suburb and the police needed to take stronger action against theives.

Last year he installed security cameras after thieves stole the tip jar from his store on New Year’s Day and the previous year robbers stole the family’s passports and possessions from their home.

The security camera footage showed Rockys Restaurant and Cafe was robbed three times by a group of people on Sunday night.

Warnakulasuriya said the robbery added financial pressure on the small family already struggling from the effects of Covid-19 on their small business, recent renovations at their home and the recent birth of their daughter.

He said the family hadn’t had a holiday in three years and the business had become their life after moving to Auckland from Oamaru, where he worked as a chef for 10 years.

“When you run a small business, every day is unexpected. You live day by day. You don’t know what bill you’re going to get, how many customers.”

He said while he had some rent relief during lockdown last year and he operated a delivery service, his revenue still dropped 20 per cent.

Rockys Restaurant & Cafe was robbed three times on Sunday night.

ANUJA NADKARNI/Stuff

Rockys Restaurant & Cafe was robbed three times on Sunday night.

The robbery on Sunday night had affected the cafe’s Uber Eats business as Warnakulasuriya used the tablet to process orders.

“We’re getting orders on Uber Eats but drivers are asking where we’ve gone.”

A regular customer at the cafe, Renee Argyros, set up a Givealittle page for the family earlier this week.

Argryros wanted to raise $20,000 for the couple to replace their laptops, restock their shelves, pay for a year of insurance, create a more secure premises, and hire staff to help Thusita, who was looking after her newborn.

Argryros and her sister were among the first to help the couple when they saw the glass door smashed in, the closed sign and Warnakulasuriya inside in tears.

It was a “heartbreaking” scene, she said.

But she said it was “divine timing” that she and her sister arrived when they did.

“We walked in on him in his smashed shop and it was meant to be.”

In two days the page had raised close to $15,000 for the couple.

Thousands of dollars worth of items were stolen, including a laptop, two iPads, alcohol and $500 cash from the till and tip jar

Anuja Nadkarni/Stuff

Thousands of dollars worth of items were stolen, including a laptop, two iPads, alcohol and $500 cash from the till and tip jar

One customer said on social media: “They are the most lovely people!! Have donated as they don’t need the extra money stress at what should be such a special time.”

Argyros said while it was overwhelming that so much money had been raised so quickly, she wasn’t surprised by the generosity of the community.

The cafe owners were “hardworking, wonderful and kind,” she said, “and people stand up for other good people”.

Warnakulasuriya fought back tears as he spoke about the community’s support.

“Everything’s happened all at once. But I guess everything happens for a reason. I didn’t think they cared so much. We’re really, really lucky to have a community that’s like a family,” he said.

An emotional Warnakulasuriya said the crowdfunding initiative was “oxygen” the business needed to recover from this “tough time”.



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