Dagwood's Pizza's security footage shows a man emptying a cash register during the July 1 burglary. (Courtesy of Mark Peters)

A group of men is breaking into restaurants in Santa Monica and other nearby cities late at night and stealing thousands of dollars in cash.

Four to five young men wearing athletic clothing and drawstring hoodies pulled down over their faces are breaking into restaurants through glass front doors that lack bars or roll up gates, said Cynthia Renaud, the Santa Monica Police Department’s chief of police. The crew has burglarized five Santa Monica restaurants since the end of May.

The men most recently stole $800 from Upper West, said SMPD Sgt. Rudy Flores. They broke into the restaurant at 3321 Pico Blvd. Wednesday at 3 a.m.

The previous three burglaries happened within one week.

They first took $500 from Viet Noodle Bar at 3221 Pico Blvd. around 3 a.m. June 27 and then stole $4,000 from Mediterranean restaurant Z Garden at 4:30 a.m. July 1. The group broke into Dagwood’s Pizza after 2 a.m. on July 3, taking a safe with $8,000 inside it.

While the safe is insured, Dagwood’s has to pay to repair the damage the burglars created, said general manager Mark Peters.

“Ultimately, it stings,” Peters said. “We had a couple of really good months — everyone was working hard, and then something like this happens. It’s hard on the team’s morale.”

Two days after the burglary, the restaurant posted security camera footage on Instagram and received an outpouring of support from patrons, he said.

“That made the team feel a lot better and helped us get back on track,” Peters said.

The crew’s first burglary in Santa Monica happened a month earlier, on May 31 around 3 a.m. They broke into the 2360 Pico Blvd. location of the Japanese fast-food chain Yoshinoya, but did not take anything.

The group has also burglarized restaurants in Los Angeles, Gardena, Agoura Hills, Culver City, Redondo Beach and Malibu, Flores said.

Flores said the crew breaks into the restaurants using saws, crowbars and hammers. After breaking in, they ransack cash drawers and look for safes, spending only two to three minutes inside, Renaud said.

They drive up to the restaurants in a late model Nissan Maxima and a recent model white Kia Optima, she added.

The burglaries have all occurred during the week, Flores said.

Renaud sent an email to the Chamber of Commerce with a list of safety pointers for restaurants, including installing bars or rollup gates to cover doors, audible alarms, and exterior and interior camera systems.

“A lot of businesses have surveillance cameras, but may not have the right passcode to get in, or they may not be functioning,” Flores said. “We want them to make sure they’re running and have infrared capabilities.”

She also recommended not keeping cash or valuables in the building after business hours and placing a visible notice saying “No cash is left on premises overnight.”

Dagwood’s is installing an additional two cameras outside, replaced its office door with a steel-plated door and cemented its safe into the ground, Peters said.

“If someone tries to break in, they’ll have to bring a jackhammer and do some serious damage,” he said.

But Peters said he doesn’t want to make security at Dagwood’s feel too tight.

“If we put bars on the windows, it kind of kills the whole family pizza vibe people know and love us for,” he said.


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