VENICE, Fla. -- A 73-year old veteran says he was fired from the Cracker Barrel restaurant in Venice for giving someone who looked in a need a few condiment packets and a corn muffin.
Was it against the restaurant's rules, or is it the right thing to do? It's a debate that is already catching fire online.
For the past three plus years, Joe Koblenzer has put on his brown and yellow Cracker Barrel apron and greeted those who come in to the Venice location. “It's a fun job; a job really suited to me."
He says that two weeks ago, a man who looked like he might be homeless came through the doors. "He looked a little needy. He asked if I had any mayonnaise and some tarter sauce. He said he was going to cook a fish."
The man whose job it is to be friendly obliged. "I got it for him. As I walked out I put a corn muffin in."
That gesture apparently cost Joe his job. "The General Manager called me in and said he had some bad news for me. Joe we are going to have to let you go."
He admits he's been written up before; two years ago for getting a fountain drink on the job and a second time for giving a cup of coffee to woman. He claims she actually paid for it.
But rules are rules. “It's a rule. They legally can do this because I did break the rule. I completely forgot about it. I am a host at Cracker Barrel with a little above minimum wage job."
Now the Vietnam vet who was trying to supplement his Social Security is the one looking for work.
"Hurt me? Oh yeah it has."
The debate over the seriousness of the event and the subsequent firing has started a firestorm online. In recent days the story has gotten out on Facebook, on pages like the Venice Scoop and even the restaurant’s own page.
While some are saying it's the company’s right, the establishments reviews have plummeted with more than 30 negative comments about the firing.
"I feel badly. It shines a bad light on the company. I would not want that on any company, but it happened," says Joe.
He says he's sad over the situation and misses the regulars and employees he's gotten to know; earning the maximum amount of stars on his apron for performance achievement and responsibility. “You know what? At 73, I was really proud of doing this. I was really proud of getting those stars."
He says yes it was against the rules and yes they have a right to let him go, but morally it still feels like it was the right thing to do. "I don't think I will be working for a corporation again, so I don't know if that will ever come up (laughs).”
Joe says he is looking for a new job but not quite sure yet what he will do.
Late Wednesday, 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.”