Burglars stole cash and thousands of dollars in merchandise in a predawn break-in at the Country Corner deli and convenience store in West Menlo Park late last month. The owners watched the incident as it unfolded at home through a video surveillance feed, said store owner Issa Wehab.
The burglary happened at 4:30 a.m. on Jan. 26. Thieves first stole loaves of bread that had been delivered minutes earlier. After loading the bread into their SUV, they sat in the vehicle for a minute or so then re-emerged, kicked in the store's front door and stole all the cigarettes inside along with thousands of dollars of cash on hand, Wehab said.
The store, located at 3207 Alameda de las Pulgas, has an alarm system that alerted deputies from the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office and the store owners of a crime in progress. The family then watched on a tablet computer as the thieves rampaged through the store.
Sheriff's Office spokesperson Detective Rosemerry Blankswade did not respond to a request for comment on the status of the investigation. Wehab said that deputies asked the family not to call for investigation updates because deputies who provide them take time away from the actual investigation.
Mule-kicking the doors
It took three backward kicks for the frame of the double doors in front to give way and allow burglars to push through into the store, Wehab said, referring to footage documenting the break-in from a video camera mounted outside the store.
The burglars wore hoodies, gloves and masks – one with a painter's mask and the other with a black mask, Wehab said.
Their entry activated motion sensors which then activated the alarm, Wehab said. Rather than walk around the front counter, they jumped over it and grabbed two of the milk crates stacked there, stealing the T-shirts with the store logo that were inside the crates, he said.
They then used shopping baskets to collect cigarettes – cartons first, then the individual packs, Wehab said.
The Sheriff's Office listed damages of $5,000 in stolen merchandise and $1,000 in stolen cash, but after a more thorough analysis and the purchase of replacement cigarettes, Wehab says those figures should probably be doubled.
In the wake of their rampage – "They spent a good five minutes in there," Wehab said – the burglars left the floor covered in spilled coins from cash register trays whose contents they tried to pour into containers. The debris in the parking lot included five $1 bills.
Wehab said he gave the camera footage to the Sheriff's Office, and deputies in turn provided him with a business card, a case number and the name of the detective assigned to the case.
"I have my faith in them," he said. "I don't know how far they're going to go to investigate it."
The new front door will be steel, he said. "That thing was solid," he said of the wooden door. "It was the hardware in the frame that failed, not the door."
"Our family has kind of been through a lot in the last few years," Wehab said. His father Bob died in June 2017, and his uncle Mike in January 2018, he said.
"We're still going back to work every morning and interacting with the customers," he said. "The customers who come through the door became our family. We don't see it as work. It's more like going to see our family."