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Customer finds mom’s favorite chef on ‘virtual tip jar’ list, sends Venmo tip amid pandemic restrictions

Customer finds, tips mom’s favorite chef on Venmo list amid pandemic restrictions

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Food service workers impacted by closures and a statewide dine-in ban are seeking relief from a virtual tip jar amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Thousands of restaurant and bar employees in Indianapolis added their Venmo usernames to a Google Docs spreadsheet circulating online.

The document lists workers’ names, positions, employers and account information so well-meaning customers can transfer “tips” on the mobile payment app.

By Tuesday night, the “Indy Service Workers Venmo List” spreadsheet had more than 2,000 names. 

“Someone had sent a [spreadsheet] link to one of my cooks. He’s like… ‘You might get lucky. You might not. Just put your name on there and see what happens,’” said Jose Lara, the executive chef at Milktooth.

The Fletcher Place restaurant closed Monday afternoon “for the foreseeable future,” hours after Gov. Eric Holcomb announced new restaurant and bar restrictions in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19.

On Tuesday, the usually bustling restaurant was deserted. A handwritten sign on the door announced the closure with a sad face.

Lara spent his first day away from the kitchen with his 8-year-old daughter, whose school was also closed.

“Fortunately, my wife is still working,” he told News 8. “Don’t know how long that will go on for… It’s pretty tough. It’s pretty sad all across the board.”

Nevertheless, the longtime chef — whose culinary passion was sparked by cooking lessons during an eighth grade home economics class — applauded the governor’s dine-in ban.

“It’s the right call to stop service and stop contact. But it’s such a blow to all the jobs and all the people,” Lara said.

He and seven other Milktooth employees — including four cooks, a barista and the pastry assistant — added their names to the Venmo list.

Lara thought it was “worth a shot” but expected no remote tips, he said.

He received a $20 Venmo payment Tuesday evening from a Milktooth customer who met him once, several months prior.

The “Indy Service Workers Venmo List” included more than 1,800 workers from hundreds of Indianapolis establishments when Krajcir accessed the document Tuesday evening. (WISH Photo)

Carla Krajcir, an Indianapolis resident, selected Lara from a list of more than 1,800 names.

She credited the chef with creating a memorable dining experience when her mother visited from Chicago.

“Milktooth is my favorite restaurant in Indy,” Krajcir said. “It was awesome sitting at the bar and watching him cook everything, and he was answering all her questions.”

Despite serving up to 400 people on busy weekend evenings, Lara instantly recalled meeting the mother-daughter pair; and their fascination with Milktooth’s signature thick-cut, sorghum-glazed bacon.

“They saw the bacon and they were like, ‘That’s crazy.’ They’ve never seen anything like that and they were so curious,” he told News 8.

Lara sent Krajcir and her mother a plate of extra-thick bacon — compliments of the chef.

They remembered the gesture and decided to “pay it forward” when they learned the restaurant had temporarily closed, Krajcir said.

She included a “thank you” message with her Venmo payment.

Lara said it felt heartwarming and validating to be a service worker on the receiving end of kindness — compliments of his customers.

“That makes me so happy,” he said. “If people had similar interactions with cooks anywhere else, please give in… and support them, too.”

Like any self-respecting food connoisseur, Krajcir snapped photos of her first encounter with Milktooth’s sorgum-glazed bacon. (Photo: Carla Krajcir)