He is known as a regular who favors the gumbo and a beer at Blue 44, a restaurant in upper Northwest Washington. And he’s a good, generous tipper.
But the owner, bartender and chef at the restaurant on Connecticut Avenue said they were shocked when the patron left a really, really big tip — $2,000 on a $93 bill.
Christofer Nardelli, owner of the four-year-old restaurant, said the man left the tip Monday evening after he and a friend had fried chicken, gumbo and the patron’s favorite brew — Old Chub Scotch Ale.
And then they left.
It wasn’t until the pair were long gone that the bartender — Laura Dally — noticed something unusual.
Just before 10 p.m., as she and others were cleaning up and getting ready to close, she picked up the bill holder. Inside was the credit card slip with a $2,000 tip, including details of how it should be divided among the three — $1,000 for chef James Turner and $500 each for Dally and Nardelli.
And a note — “Thank you for the Gumbo!”
“I was in utter shock,” she said. “I was completely speechless. I had to do a double take.”
Dally went to her boss and said, “We need to talk.”
The two went back to his office, and she showed him the receipt.
“I didn’t know what to say,” Nardelli recalled. He said he didn’t want to name the patron, to protect his privacy.
“This is the kind of stuff you see in the restaurant business that happens to some guy in the Midwest or the West Coast,” Nardelli said. “You think, who are these people who give these extraordinarily generous tips that just made a server or bartender’s day? And then sure enough, it happened to us.”
Nardelli said the customer lives in the area and frequents the bar a few times a month. He is partial to the restaurant’s gumbo, which features a chicken and andouille sausage base with a dark roux. At times, Nardelli, the chef and the patron have e-mailed over food pairings and beer selections.
Recently, the chef e-mailed with the patron, asking him for advance notice on the next time he would be in the restaurant so he could make the gumbo he liked. The customer responded to say he would be in Monday.
Turner made the gumbo.
On Monday, the man came in with a friend and jokingly was chanting, “Gumbo, gumbo, gumbo,” Dally said.
He and his friend ordered the Monday night special — a three-course meal of salad, fried chicken and dessert — with gumbo interspersed throughout, according to Dally.
When the patron asked for some to go, Dally went in the back and talked to the chef, who sent out two quarts — on the house — as a “thank you” for coming in.
Dally dropped off the gumbo and the check and thanked them for coming. She began cleaning up and didn’t notice the receipt until she was closing for the night.
The next day, Nardelli said he sent a “thank you” e-mail to the patron.
In the e-mail exchange, Nardelli said the patron explained why he left a healthy chunk of change.
“He said he’s very happy with what we’ve built and that he’s proud to be a customer,” Nardelli said. The patron also said in the e-mail, “I’m very happy to express my gratitude in that way.”
Nardelli said he plans to use his money to help offset his toddler’s monthly day-care bill and believes that Turner will spend his money on his family as well.
“It’s flattering,” he said. “It’s nice to see somebody appreciate what we do and they’re willing to leave something like that for us. It’s hard to believe anyone deserves a tip like that.”
Dally, a 29-year-old Silver Spring resident, said she plans to use her $500 to pay for a summer class at Montgomery College. She is working to become an occupational therapist.
In 10 years of working off and on as a hostess, server or bartender, how often has she gotten such a large tip?
“Never,” she said. “Never have I gotten a tip this big. Never.”