VENICE, Fla. -- National networks and major online websites have been spreading the story you saw first here on ABC 7 last week, about a 73-year old Venice veteran that was fired from a local Cracker Barrel restaurant for, at least in part, giving away a muffin to a man who looked homeless.
Monday, we talked to Joe Koblenzer to get his reaction to the story that touched a nerve across the country.
"I thought I had a virus. I don't know anything about viral." After our story aired last week, the Venice resident has appeared on network television and been featured in online stories for People Magazine and in other sites across the world.
Joe doesn't know much about that. "I don't have a computer. If I could afford computers and all that, I probably wouldn't need a part time job."
Joe's family and friends have been filling him in. He says he's surprised with how big it's gotten. “I have nothing against the company. I don't want doom and gloom. I don't want problems for them. This just grabbed a hold of the people and they went with it."
Joe's daughter Kendra Carr says it's been a little overwhelming. “I’m stunned and floored by the amount of attention it has garnered nationally."
She says she's proud of her dad, and apparently so are a lot of other people. "I think it is the combination of someone who is a veteran, elderly, someone who is holding themselves together and not going on Welfare and asking for food stamps. He is helping someone in need while he himself is someone somewhat also in need."
While hundreds of negative reviews have flooded the company online, some are supporting Cracker Barrel, saying employees just can’t go around giving product away.
ABC 7 contacted them again to see what they think now about all the coverage. They referred to their initial statement that this was not the first time Joe had broken the rules by giving something away and his firing was justified.
Joe says he hasn't heard from them. "I have not. I am somewhat surprised by that. I thought I would hear from them. I thought I would hear something."
The Vietnam veteran was working the job to help supplement his social security. "If it were handled differently, I would want my job back. I like it there."
Again, he says he knows he broke the rules by giving away something that wasn't his. Still feeling it was morally the right thing to do, he now hopes something might change. "Now that I see the attention that it got, it could help somebody. It could change a few rules."
Joe says he is thankful for all the support, but now needs to get busy supporting himself by looking for a new job.
Last week, a Cracker Barrel spokesperson released the following statement:
“Mr. Koblenzer has worked as a host at Cracker Barrel’s Sarasota store since April 2011. During the time he was employed, he violated the Company’s policies regarding consuming food without paying or giving away free food, on five separate occasions. Mr. Koblenzer received multiple counselings and written warnings reminding him about the company’s polices and the consequences associated with violating them. On the fifth occasion, again per Company policy, Mr. Koblenzer was terminated.
Cracker Barrel is grateful for and honors Mr. Koblenzer’s service to our country as we honor all service men and women and their families.”
Joe's supporters have started a Facebook page to urge Cracker Barrel to bring Joe back.