Robbery foiled at Godfather’s Pizza, 2001

March 17, 2001

Godfather’s Pizza employees (left to right) Michelle McDonell, Zeb Hodel, David Tyson, Joe McDonell and Pete Boyechko foiled a robbery attempt Saturday night. (Rick Scibelli / News-Tribune)

PIZZERIA WORKERS FOIL ROBBER

By Bob Linneman, News-Tribune

After fighting off an attempted robbery last weekend, workers at the Duluth Godfather’s Pizza on London Road have discovered a newfound closeness.

Call it bonding by fear.

"We’re like a family now, and we take care of each other," said David Tyson, 24, who stood bravely between the pizza parlor’s cash register and a man believed to be armed last Saturday night.

According to a criminal complaint filed in St. Louis County District Court this week, five people — three men and two women — entered Godfather’s and ordered food at about 5 p.m.

Store manager Pete Boyechko said the group appeared intoxicated. He told them no food would be prepared unless they produced money to pay for it. When no one offered any cash, the group left the building, at 1623 London Road. Minutes later, however, they returned and attempted to write a check, but didn’t produce proper identification.

The group left the restaurant again, but only for a short time. Soon, one man, identified as Maurice Antonio Garcia, 30, of Crystal, Minn., returned and began arguing with Tyson, the restaurant supervisor.

"The guy was pounding on the register and punched the soda fountain. David stepped in front of him," said Michelle McDonell, 18, who works at the restaurant with her brother, Joe. "The guy was right in his face. When the guy got the register open, David pushed him back and closed it. The guy was swinging his arms the whole time."
Meanwhile, Boyechko called 911 from a back office.

"I heard these smacks and I thought someone was getting hit," he said.

The noise was actually the cash register being struck.

According to restaurant workers and the criminal complaint, Garcia went behind the counter and after the cash register. He was yelling and swearing at Tyson.

Garcia also allegedly put his hand in his trousers, leading restaurant workers to believe he was armed with either a gun or knife. It turned out he had no weapon.

Tension was high. There was no one else in the restaurant at the time.

"I thought one of us wasn’t going to go home that night," Boyechko said.

But Tyson, who has lived in Duluth for only a few months, stood his ground and pushed Garcia away, preventing a potential robbery.

During the altercation, another man in the group re-entered the store and tried to drag Garcia away. The two finally left, but were soon picked up by police, along with the three others in the group.

Police responded in force to the restaurant with at least nine squads.

"They were fortunate the police were in the immediate area and were able to respond quickly," said Sgt. Eric Rish of the Duluth Police Department.

The police presence was a huge relief to the five Godfather’s workers on duty that night.

"When I saw the police lights, my stress level went way down," a relieved Boyechko said.

Supervisor David Tyson, one of five employees at Godfather’s Pizza on London Road who collectively foiled a robbery attempt, got public kudos for his actions. (Rick Scibelli / News-Tribune)

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Talking about the incident Thursday, restaurant workers say they are proud of the way they handled the situation — and proud of Tyson, in particular.

For his courage, Tyson was named the restaurant’s employee of the month; his name appears on a sign outside inviting customers inside to meet the man of the hour.

Rish, however, said the group was lucky. He doesn’t recommend that type of response to a potential robbery.

"Businesses should all have a plan in place in case of incidents like this," he said, adding that, in most cases, it’s best to let the robbers take the money and let police handle it from there.

"Don’t be a hero,"’ Rish said.

The workers were scared and acted on impulse, Boyechko said. They had never been in a situation like this before. In fact, Boyechko said, "it’s the last thing I would think would happen here."

But Tyson had been through a similar situation. He was a victim of a home-invasion robbery in Minneapolis last year and knows how to handle himself.

"I wasn’t scared," Tyson said. "I didn’t think he had a gun, either. I’ve been robbed before and I know how people act."

Garcia was the only one charged in the incident and is in St. Louis County Jail. He’s been charged with attempted aggravated robbery and criminal damage to property. He could face a 12-year prison sentence if convicted on both charges.

His bail has been set at $4,000.

Although they were frightened, the five Godfather’s workers on duty that night — Boyechko, Tyson, Michelle McDonell, Joe McDonell and Zeb Hodel — say the experience has brought them closer.

"We’re a lot closer; we’re trying to spend more time together outside of work," Boyechko said.

Tyson said he relied solely on instinct in his response to the threat of robbery.

"I knew my co-workers had not been in that kind of situation before," he said. "I did what I felt I needed to do."

It was a scary moment for the employees, all of them in their teens or early 20s.

"It was very hectic," Michelle McDonell said. "My little brother (Joe, 15) was up front and I wanted to make sure he was OK. Everybody ended up being OK."

The attempted robbery has been the talk of the restaurant all week. "I’m just glad everything turned out all right," Michelle McDonell said.

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Godfather’s Pizza on London Road closed just a few months later, in August 2001. The building is now occupied by China Cafe.

Share your memories of the London Road Godfather’s Pizza by posting a comment.

- Andrew Krueger

Lakehead Service Center, 1961

October 31, 1961

Lakehead Service Center, 1530 London Road (News-Tribune file photo)

The Lakehead Service Center opened in 1961 on London Road in Duluth’s Endion neighborhood. After remodeling, additions and a name change, it’s still there today, operating as London Road Car Wash. Cars exiting the car wash today still use the original exit, as seen in these photos.

This photo is undated, but it may be from a couple years after it opened:

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Here is an article that previewed the opening of the service center, from July 28, 1961:

CAR SERVICE CENTER TO OPEN

By Garth Germond, Duluth Herald staff writer

Mayor E. Clifford Mork and Robert B. Morris, Duluth Chamber of Commerce executive secretary, will take part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark the opening of the new Lakehead Service Center Saturday.

George Finch, president of Lakehead Service Co., and William Soules, vice president and general manager, say their new center – located at 16th Avenue East and London Road – is the first of its kind in the state.

They describe it as a "supermarket" for auto owners, offering complete mechanical repairs and maintenance, gas and oil service and a high speed car wash. The car wash will be opened next week.

Soules says that the car wash will employ a variety of new-type automatic equipment. It will use a mild detergent under high pressure to watch cars; a 10-horsepower vacuum cleaner to clean interiors; and a 120-horsepower blower for fast drying.

The center occupies about a half-block of space. Its white-painted concrete-block buildings were erected by United General Constructors, Inc. C. Everett Thorsen was the architect and Elmer M. Peterson the consulting engineer.

Soules and Finch announced appointment of Donald E. Anderson, former operator of the Highland Service Center, as head of their repair department, and Leonard Sathers, a veteran Duluth gasoline service station operator, as service manager. Pure Oil Co. products will be featured.

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For more information on the Pure Oil brand, click here.

Here are a few close-ups from the first photo:

Lemon Drop restaurant revisited, 1981

June 1981

lemondrop

The Lemon Drop restaurant sign appears in this June 1981 photo. (Karl Jaros / News-Tribune)

Lemon Drop Hill is as much a part of Grandma’s Marathon as the annual race’s finish line on Canal Park Drive. The marathon’s 33rd running takes place Saturday.

The hill, which sits near 26th Avenue East on London Road in Duluth, was named after the Lemon Drop restaurant, which used to reside at 2631 London Rd. until it closed during the expansion of Interstate 35 around 1990.

News Tribune reporters Kevin Pates and Mark Stodghill have each taken credit for the name, Pates said.

He made reference to the hill in a Grandma’s Marathon race story in 1983 “when England’s Gerry Helme won and was in a battle with American John Tuttle. Tuttle made a move on Lemon Drop Hill, just past the 22-mile mark, but Helme caught him with less than two miles remaining.”

The reporters, both avid runners, took a cue from the Boston Marathon’s famed Heartbreak Hill, which rests at about the 21-mile mark.

More photos of the area around the Lemon Drop restaurant can be found at a previous Attic post from March 23, 2008.

Lemon Drop restaurant, 1988

Sept. 15, 1988

Looking northeast on London Road from 25th Avenue East, September 1988. (Bob King / News-Tribune)

Here are a couple of photos showing businesses near the intersection of London Road and 26th Avenue East, before the Interstate 35 extension was built – the same area that was shown in an aerial view in a previous post. The Lemon Drop restaurant is gone now, but its name lives on each year when Grandma’s Marathon runners climb the hill shown in these photos. That rise was dubbed "Lemon Drop Hill" by the News Tribune sports staff during marathon coverage in the late 1970s.

Looking southwest along London Road toward 26th Avenue East, June 20, 1981. (Karl Jaros / News-Tribune)