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© St. Petersburg Times, published January 6, 2002
Possible future news story:
Law enforcement agencies in three counties announced Friday that they are forming an area-wide task force to deal with what they characterized as poor service problems in the hundreds of restaurants that dot Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties.
Named ROCK (Responsive Organization for Culinary Klutziness), the group is also named in honor of former Pasco sheriff's Deputy Mike Rock, who in 1997 arrested a German restaurant owner named, interestingly, Heinz for refusing to serve him ketchup with his potato pancakes.
But the reason for formation of the group is the case of Inverness Police Chief Joe Elizarde, who celebrated the new year by locking up a restaurant owner who he said assaulted him after the chief complained about his burgers not being ready on time.
"We thought of having Chief Elizarde head up the task force," said an organization spokesman, "but he is currently busy tracking down purveyors of cold coffee, soggy french fries and wilted lettuce."
Elizarde will, however, head the task force's glee club, which is already practicing its anthem, Up Against The Wall Burger-Flipper.
"We're pretty sure that tardy burger-bungling and abuse of condiment selection rights are just the tip of the iceberg of poor service," the spokesman said at a press conference at a Dunkin' Donuts where two employees, being held at gunpoint, were swearing that they didn't know they had run out of glazed doughnut holes.
Restaurant owners like Zum Struwwelpeter, the anti-ketchup activist who has left the country, and Butch Ramsey, the owner of Happy Dayz Diner in Inverness, "are hereby put on notice," said the ROCK spokesman, "that not having your grill ready or protecting cultural heritage are no longer acceptable excuses, . . . and we're kind of tired of hearing things like "We don't serve that' when we go to ethnic restaurants. If sushi bars don't serve hamburgers and barbecue joints don't serve flan, then they better think about going back where they came from, even if it was here."
Inverness was a natural location to announce the task force's formation, as it was there in 1991 that the owner of Heidi's Italian restaurant was arrested for allegedly assaulting a police officer with a 30-pound bag of french fries. Charges of having an ethnically inappropriate business name were never filed.
Initial plans to have the conference at the Crown Hotel were changed after hotel officials thought all of the police officers in blue uniforms were Rotarians in blue blazers and barricaded the doors.
Although the spokesman refused to give his name, he said his background included speech writing for former Pasco sheriffs and that he gained food service experience when he was in charge of feeding Citrus Sheriff Jeff Dawsy's ego, which reportedly requires several pounds of raw meat daily.
But restaurant owners wanted their say, also.
"We come from a long history of service to customers, most of whom have lost more than half of their taste buds due to age, who are more interested in low prices than speedy service or flavor," said "Early Bird" Bromo, speaking for the Tri-County Restaurant Owners' Association and Shuffleboard Guild. "We reserve the right to treat public officials just as we treat our other customers. No manners, no service."
Reminded that some restaurant chains have had difficulties with real discrimination, the ROCK spokesman said the group's focus will be on what he said is an international plot aimed at telling law enforcement, "Special orders do upset us."
The press conference ended when reporters and photographers rushed outside to hear Elizarde bellowing through a bullhorn at a terrified ice cream man, "Put the Nutty Buddy DOWN! Step away from the Nutty Buddy, and we all go home tonight. . . . You have the right to use place mats. . . . If you desire place mats and can't afford them, a trip to Big Lots will be arranged for you. You have the right to call Martha Stewart and to have her present during questioning. . . . If you give up that right. . . ."