This Waiter’s Customer Refused To Tip – But Then He Found The Envelope She’d Mistakenly Left Behind

It’s May 2019, and Karen Vinacour has just finished her meal at Patsy’s Pizzeria in New York City. But following an awkward exchange with her waiter, she decides against leaving him a tip. And as Vinacour walks out of the restaurant, she fails to realize that she’s accidentally dropped something extremely valuable on the table.

Located in East Harlem, New York, Patsy’s has been a mainstay in the Big Apple for close to nine decades now. Yes, the pizzeria first opened its doors back in 1933 thanks to the efforts of a man named Pasquale Lancieri. And in the years after that, he established a legacy that pizza lovers are still licking their lips over today.

How so? Well, Lancieri is often cited as the man who innovated the idea of offering customers slices of pizza – as opposed to the whole pie. Plus he apparently made the “traditional New York-style thin crust” pizzas famous too. Wow! That’s some way to write your name into the history books right?

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And Patsy’s has continued to endure throughout the years, building off Lancieri’s hard work. But what do the customers think of the place? Is it worth a visit if you’re in the neighborhood? To get a better idea of that, both Tripadvisor and Yelp are loaded with different reviews from past patrons.

One user on Tripadvisor was certainly a fan, writing, “[I] took my three Italian visiting cousins to this establishment the other night. The vibe was cool [and] people were enjoying themselves. We were seated by a wonderful hostess. The service was spot on and the pizza is the best. [I’ve] made this our go-to spot.”

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A different user on Yelp summed up their thoughts rather succinctly. They wrote, “Great pizza and pasta. Great service. [The] staff [are] very friendly. A little bit pricey, but excellent food.” Overall Patsy’s earned an average of three-and-a-half stars from 510 reviews on the website, while it boasted four stars on Tripadvisor.

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Not bad! And in keeping with those previous two reviews, the waiting staff got a good rating on Tripadvisor as well. Yes – users gave the workers a total of four stars. So it’s surprising to hear that Vinacour refused to tip her waiter when she visited Patsy’s in May 2019.

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What could’ve happened? Was Vinacour dealing with someone who was new to the job? Or was it something else? Well, the server in question certainly wasn’t a rookie. Because Armando Markaj had been working at Patsy’s for close to a decade by the time Vinacour dropped in.

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That’s quite a run! Yet despite all that experience, Markaj did have his sights set on a different profession. Because the veteran server was actually a medical student, using the job to finance his education. Given that, the customers’ tips would’ve been particularly important to him.

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So what transpired on that fateful day in May? In truth it all began quite normally, as Vinacour and her daughter visited Patsy’s to get some lunch. Now she used to ply her trade as a social worker, before retiring from the role. And when she arrived at the restaurant, her eyes were fixated on the future.

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Because Vinacour was scoping out a new condo that day after selling her previous home. That would definitely build up your appetite! Thus the retiree carried those sharp-eyed skills into Patsy’s, as she and her daughter caught sight of the restaurant’s walls. In their mind, something was amiss.

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For those of you unfamiliar with Patsy’s, the pizzeria has decorated its walls with framed photographs of celebrity customers. That’s an incredible selling point wouldn’t you agree? It’s not quite on the level of Planet Hollywood, but still – we can’t forget this is a local business in a city full of restaurants.

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Yet while most customers are sure to be enamored by the list of well-known faces on the wall, Vinacour picked up on something that bothered her. And that led her to ask Markaj an intriguing question. To explain what happened next, the former social worker spoke to WABC-TV in May 2019.

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Vinacour told the station, “I knew [Patsy’s] was a very special restaurant. We were talking and chatting away, and then there was this little exchange with the waiter about no women on the wall.” Yep, she didn’t believe that the pizzeria had a strong enough female presence in the picture department. No rest for female activism it seems, not even at lunch!

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So how did Markaj respond? He recalled to WABC-TV, “There’s a bunch of women, and [Vinacour] goes ‘not as much as there should be.’ Well I was like, ‘Summer is coming, probably women don’t like to eat pizza as much.’ You know, [with a] sense of humor.” Unfortunately for the waiter, his customers didn’t see it that way.

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As Vinacour told the New York Daily News website, “Well, my daughter’s kind of feisty and she didn’t like that. So we didn’t tip [Markaj].” But that wasn’t all. Because the pair decided to leave Markaj a message that outlined why they wouldn’t be giving him the standard gratuity. Wow!

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Vinacour informed WABC-TV, “The consensus of opinion was not to give [Markaj] a tip. And we wrote on the note, ‘Women eat pizza, and by the way, have you heard that women don’t leave tips?’” Ouch! And with that, both she and her daughter departed the restaurant to continue their day.

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Here’s the thing, though – Markaj wasn’t lying when he said that many famous ladies adorned the walls at Patsy’s. You’d find photos of public figures like Chirlane McCray, Melissa Mark-Viverito, Christine Quinn and Barbara Walters in there, for instance. It really was just an awkward misunderstanding.

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So how did Markaj react to the note? Quite admirably, it has to be said.The veteran server took the jibe in his stride, as he looked to clear up the area for the next batch of customers. But as he was doing that, he spied something else on the table top.

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It obviously wasn’t a tip, so what could it have been? Well, Markaj looked back on that pivotal moment while speaking to the New York Daily News in May 2019. As it turned out, the medical student very nearly chucked it away with the rest of the stuff from Vinacour’s table.

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Markaj revealed, “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 [Vinacour], but she was gone.”

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Then the waiter decided to take a peek at the contents of the envelope. And nothing could’ve prepared him for what he’d find. Yes, it was a financial document from Citibank – but the quoted figure therein was staggering. So we hope you’re sitting down for this next part…

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The check was worth exactly $423,987.55 – no, that’s not a typo! That’s unbelievable isn’t it? Markaj continued to the New York Daily News, “Normally we just put things left behind in the lost and found box in the back. But I wasn’t going to do that with almost half-a-million dollars.” So what did the waiter do?

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Markaj decided to alert his boss of the situation immediately, handing him the valuable document. His name is Frank Brija, and he couldn’t believe it either. Brija told the New York Daily News, “We thought for sure it was a billionaire or something who came in here, because who walks around with a check like that?”

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In truth Vinacour wasn’t a billionaire, or even a millionaire. That money was essentially all that she had left, with a chunk of it coming from the property sale that we mentioned earlier. The former social worker was aiming to utilize the cash to purchase the condo she’d been to see prior to visiting Patsy’s.

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Surprisingly, though, Vinacour didn’t notice that the document was missing until the following evening. She informed the New York Daily News, “We’d pulled out my papers to go through all the financials again [at Patsy’s]. I had no idea we left it behind. [But] I figured ‘it’s a check, I’ll just go to the bank and ask them to stop it.’”

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Sounds like a good plan right? So Vinacour dropped in on Union Square’s Citibank the next morning, hoping to set things straight. Yet her idea quickly went up in smoke, as the staff revealed that it wouldn’t be that easy. The retired worker received a terrifying bit of news, in fact.

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Vinacour continued to the New York Daily News, “[The bank] 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. My world just collapsed.” But she refused to accept defeat.

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Following that trip to the bank, Vinacour and her daughter looked high and low for the missing check. She even contacted the real estate agent that she spent time with on the day. Yet those efforts all appeared to be for nought, as the mom went to a coffee shop close to Patsy’s.

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Vinacour recalled to the New York Daily News, “[The coffee shop] said they didn’t have it. [Then the real estate agent] said she had called Patsy’s and nobody knew anything about a check. I didn’t stop to think that maybe she called the wrong one.” But that’s exactly what happened. Talk about bad luck! At that stage, she seemingly threw in the towel.

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Meanwhile, Brija and his staff were desperately hoping to get the eye-popping check back to its owner. At first they were convinced that Vinacour would return without any prompts. The Patsy’s proprietor noted, “I thought for sure it won’t be long. Even a billionaire would miss that much money.”

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But when that didn’t happen, Brija called on his son Adem to scour the internet – maybe they’d reach Vinacour that way? The pizzeria owner told NBC New York, “Because he’s good at all those gadgets, I said, ‘Can you please just try to Google [the name] and see if we can find this lady?’” And that’s not all.

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Because in addition to the online search, Brija contacted the New York Daily News. So now with a major newspaper on their side, Patsy’s staff were sure that Vinacour would finally be located. And the publication did just that – some five days after the drama all started.

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Once the paper found Vinacour, a journalist dropped her a line at Patsy’s, questioning if she was looking for a priceless item. “I can’t believe it, I’m so relieved,” the retired parent responded. “You have no idea. I’m jumping in a cab, I’ll be there right away.” And she wasn’t exaggerating.

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As Brija recalled to PIX11 News, “[Vinacour] got here within ten, 15, 20 minutes. She was here and she actually cried, she was nervous.” Given the money involved, we certainly don’t blame her for showing some emotion! But when the ex-social worker calmed down, her immediate thoughts turned towards her waiter.

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Yes, Vinacour showered Armando Markaj with plenty of praise, noting afterwards that he showed his true colors in holding the check. Speaking to NBC New York, she said, “What an amazing young man. He could’ve 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.”

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And we can’t help but ask – how was the meeting between Markaj and Vinacour when they crossed paths again? Was it just as awkward as their last encounter at Patsy’s? Well, not really. In fact, the medical student looked back on their surprising reunion during an interview with PIX11 News.

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Markaj told the station, “[Vinacour] apologized, [and] the apology was accepted. She offered to give me a tip, but you know what, I [kept hold of the check] for the sake of myself. So I was like, ‘I’m not taking the tip now.’” What an admirable mindset! And fair play for sticking by his principles.

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When Vinacour was reunited with her check, though, Brija had a surprise up his sleeve. Not forgetting the catalyst of this crazy story, he showed her around the restaurant and highlighted the pictures of famous ladies. Then the proprietor promised to add her face to the lineup by snapping a shot later that day. Lesson learned!

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That’s a lovely gesture right? And while Vinacour was in the restaurant, the New York Daily News recorded an interesting exchange between her and Markaj. Upon seeing the lost check at first, the waiter said, “I guess I figured that it was just karma for them.” She replied, “I believe in karma too. I guess that’s what helped get me back to you.”

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