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Bizarre Robot Heist Rattles Beloved Ice Cream Shop Toy Boat by Jane

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“Who steals toys from an ice cream store? And why?”

These robots, and some other Godzilla toys, were stolen from Toy Boat by Jane on October 8
Toy Boat by Jane/Instagram

Shoplifting and petty theft are part of the game when you own a small business, any restaurateur can tell you. But a crime that went down this week at Toy Boat by Jane, the revived version of Clement Street’s 38-year-old classic ice cream shop, is anything but usual, as it involved costumes, an elaborate setup, and the theft of items with little to no financial value.

When Jesse and Roberta Fink, the founders of Toy Boat, announced their retirement in June, a city mourned: The Inner Richmond snack shop had fed generations of San Franciscans ice cream and treats in an environment of toys and collectibles assembled by Fink over the years.

One of those mourners was Amanda Michael, the owner of the Jane the Bakery mini-empire of restaurants. She’s a San Francisco native, and not only did she grow up going to Toy Boat, but when she had kids, she raised them on Toy Boat desserts, too. When she heard that the spot was up for sale, she moved in, in large part because she wanted to keep the Finks’ legacy alive, she tells Eater SF.

“We worked really hard to preserve” everything that Toy Boat’s patrons love about the shop, Michael says, especially the vast showcase of toys. “It’s in the name!” she says, “and it’s Jesse’s life’s work!” After a quick refresh to ensure the spot is easy to clean in these pandemic times, Michael and her team reopened Toy Boat on September 17.

“I’d say 95 percent of the feedback we’ve gotten has been supportive,” Michael says, “but I also know that change is hard. It’s hard for me, so I know it must be hard for other people!” But now she’s wondering if that other 5 percent is behind a “ballsy” theft that went down at the shop on October 8, right under everyone’s noses.

So here’s what happened: About a week before, a tagger spun down Clement, using etching solution to tag the word “Seven” on the windows of several woman-owned businesses down the street. (We’re not going to amplify the vandal’s work, but local shop Foggy Notion posted some of the tagged spots in their Instagram stories.)

That type of vandalism requires a replacement of the entire window, which is quite expensive, this correspondent knows from experience. Michael says that her shop has had several workers in to offer bids on the window replacement job, which is why no one even paused when a worker came into the shop to check out the window on Thursday.

“He had on a work vest and was carrying a ladder and some crates,” Michael says. The man told a staffer that “he’d been talking to Amanda” and that “he was here to look at the window.” The Jane staffer left him to his work as a delivery for the shop arrived. “And then he was gone.”

As it turns out, the man wasn’t there to bid on the window replacement job, he was there to box up several toys from Fink’s collection. “What he took was very specific,” Michael says, “the metal robots and some Godzillas.” While wonderful, none of them have any value other than the sentimental, Michael confirms.

“And who steals toys from an ice cream store?” Michael asks, still in disbelief. “And why?”

Michael says that Fink — whom she speaks to “once or twice a week” — was the first person she called when she realized the shop had been robbed. “I feel the worst for Jesse,” she says, “he cherishes this stuff.” Michael also feels bad for her staff, even though she emphasizes that the theft is not their fault. “I don’t want this to be the narrative they go home with,” she says. “I want them to remember the kid covered in chocolate ice cream, not this.”

When she reported the theft to the police, they told her that she should be concerned, as this was clearly a planned-out heist, not a crime of opportunity. Though “the police were great,” it’s unlikely there’s anything they can do to find the suspect, who wore a ballcap and a face mask the entire time he was in the store. “There’s no way to get any sort of ID,” she says.

Still, Michael hopes that the thief might have a second thought about what he did and return the toys. “I don’t know if he thought he was saving the toys from gentrification or what,” Michael says. “But you don’t want that on your shoulders,” she says, addressing the thief directly. “Just bring them back. We’ll take them. No questions asked.”

Toy Boat Dessert Cafe

401 Clement Street, San Francisco, CA 94118 415 751 7505