It was a normal early morning at Tony’s Breakfast in Northeast Washington on Nov. 7 when, out of nowhere, a man lunged across the counter and grabbed for the cash register.
Manager Justine Choe had just opened the cash drawer to make change for a customer. She quickly realized what was happening and, out of instinct, held on as tight as she could to the register.
Three other employees jumped in to help, and a smacking, slapping tug-of-war ensued between the broad-shouldered robber and the four petite restaurant workers.
“We’re not passive women,” said Choe, 30, whose parents own the restaurant.
The robber, a tall, muscular, baldheaded man, had a grip on the cash drawer and was yanking it.
Sandra Andino, 21, heard coins dropping on the floor and looked up to see Choe struggling with the robber. Andino grabbed the register with her right hand, and with her left, repeatedly smacked the robber’s head with an open palm.
“The cooks asked me after, ‘You slapped him with an open hand?’ ” Andino said. “I said, ‘Well, that’s the first thing that came to my mind.’ ”
Kay Aimes, 45, Choe’s sister, jumped into the fray, pounding on the man’s head with the side of her fist.
“It was like the mother bear in me coming out,” Aimes said.
Possibly the final straw was when Kelly Shar Khuu, 56, looked up from cleaning the floor and saw the melee. She grabbed a large roll of aluminum foil and whacked the would-be robber on the head.
“All the ladies were hitting him,” Khuu said. “I got the aluminum foil.”
The struggle went on for a few more seconds until the robber realized he was outnumbered and outmaneuvered. He was clutching about $30 in cash when he ran out of the store.
The women hugged and checked in with each other and then called 911. When the police crime scene technicians came, one of them said, “Way to go, girl! You guys are crazy,” Aimes said.
While police were inside dusting for fingerprints and looking for other evidence, officers told the women to close the restaurant because they wouldn’t be able to get back in for a while. But Choe said she had customers to serve, and they were forming a line outside the restaurant in the 1300 block of H Street NE.
She saw her hands had gotten cut up a little in the struggle, so she washed off the blood, put on gloves and walked outside to take her customers’ orders.
Looking back, she said it was fortunate that the robber didn’t have a weapon, and she said she felt lucky to be alive. Police haven’t made an arrest in the case.
“If he pulled out a gun and said, ‘Give me your money,’ we’d be like ‘Okay,’ ” Choe said. “We’re not stupid.”
But she said watching the video after the fact, she can’t help but laugh.
“We look back and it’s kind of comical,” Choe said. “He did get a beating on his head.”
Peter Hermann contributed to this report.