4.5 million stolen bees, 6,150 pounds of missing chickpeas. 2020’s food crimes were as weird as the year itself.

By Mike Pomranz
December 29, 2020
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Thanks to a dizzying mix of pandemic and politics, 2020 has been the strangest year many Americans have lived through. As a result, many weird news stories that may have grabbed more national headlines in other years were simply shrugged off as “fitting for 2020.” So, as we thankfully prepare to enter 2021, here is a year’s worth of true food crime stories you may have missed.

Bee Heist
Credit: Getty Images

92 Hives Holding Millions of Bees Stolen in California

As pollinators, bees are very important to the food chain, but the insects have increasingly become the target of theft. In January, one beekeeper reported having 92 hives stolen from a holding area in California. According to the Los Angeles Times, the estimated revenue loss was about $44,000, but the number of lost bees was even more staggering: Each hive held over 50,000, meaning at least 4.5 million bees were taken.

Thief Busted for Stolen Cheese After Weeks Hiding Out in Grocery Store Rafters

Cheese is sometimes cited as the world’s most stolen food, so in February, when the Auburn Police Department in Washington announced they had arrested a man for swiping a nearly $395 wheel of Beecher’s from a grocery store, the theft alone wasn’t necessarily national news. But here’s the bizarre twist: According to the News Tribute, authorities believe the man had been hiding out in the rafters of the market for weeks. And cheese was just one of many items he stole: He apparently also had an affinity for liquor and cigarettes.

Thieves Tunnel in for $200,000 Worth of Fine Wine

Wine theft and fraud are relatively common; just ask French authorities who recovered $6 million worth of stolen wine earlier this month. But back in February, a burglary in Copenhagen made headlines for just how brazen it was: Thieves reportedly broke into a wine shop adjacent to the Michelin-starred Formel B and then tunneled into their wine cellar to pick off about 50 to 60 of the restaurants’ best wine bottles, worth approximately $200,000 in total. The culprits knew what they wanted: The less expensive bottles went untouched.

Three Tons of Chickpeas Go Missing

We’ve all been there: The delivery company says your package has arrived, but it’s nowhere to be found. Usually, it’s just some junk from Amazon, but for Washington, D.C.’s Israeli food joint Little Sesame, the missing item was 6,150 pounds of chickpeas. The restaurant explains that, on February 24, UPS tracking listed the beans as out for delivery, but they never arrived, leading Little Sesame to publicly search for the three tons of beans’ whereabouts, grabbing national headlines in the process. Oddly enough, despite no leads, Little Sesame confirmed to me that, unexpectedly, all the chickpeas eventually did arrive a couple weeks later: “No questions asked, and none answered.”

Axe-Wielding Man Boxes His Own Voodoo Doughnuts

Oregon-based Voodoo Doughnuts is known as a cult-favorite doughnut joint nationwide, but back in March, one fan went a bit too far to fulfill his craving. According to Eater Portland, a man brandished a hatchet at about 3:40 a.m. at the brand’s Old Town location, then hopped over the counter and began filling a pink doughnut box himself. Police reportedly caught up with the suspect about a block away where he was, yes, eating a doughnut.

Man Drives Off with an Entire Truck of Jack Daniel’s

Robbing a liquor store is about as cliché as crimes get, so one ambitious thief decided to rob the middleman: On March 28, an entire trailer of Jack Daniel’s whiskey was driven out an Atlanta facility, but one problem: No one was sure who the driver was. The truck was found a couple days later and, unsurprisingly, the “majority of the cargo” was gone.

Giant Decorative Tomato Found After Four-Year Absence

Seeing as food is perishable, thefts often don’t have happy endings. But in Peterborough, Ontario, a restaurant owner had a tomato returned to him after four-years. Thankfully, it was five-feet-wide and entirely decorative. The massive tomato was stolen from the front of a Canadian location of the Italian chain East Side Mario’s back in 2016, but in April of 2020, the owner received a tip that it was spotted dumped in a nearby park. And unlike a real tomato, this one wasn’t worse for wear. “It is in perfect condition,” the owner was quoted as saying.

Food Truck Thefts Made the Pandemic That Much Worse

As the COVID-19 pandemic has forced much of the nation to turn to takeout and outdoor dining, food trucks have been there to help fill the void. Takeout and outdoor are two of the things these mobile restaurants do best. While stealing a food truck seems especially cruel in 2020, it still happens. From a truck stolen in San Francisco in June to one stolen in Tampa earlier this month, food truck thefts have felt upsettingly common at a time when we need these mobile vendors the most.

Thieves Impersonate Trucking Company to Steal Nearly $300,000 in Pistachios

In August, authorities in California busted an attempt to steal and resell nearly $300,000 worth of pistachios. The scheme was surprisingly elaborate, with the thieves first stealing the identity of a legitimate trucking company before driving the pistachios to an abandoned property to remove them from their packaging. But one major snag: The trailers used were equipped with GPS and a suspect was quickly found.

A Thousand Pounds of Wine Grapes Stolen off the Vine

In October, the Coteau Rougemont vineyard in Quebec had over 1,000 pounds of grapes stolen right off the vines before the producer was able to harvest them. “It's probably somebody that wanted to make wine in his garage or basement,” owner Michel Robert was quoted as saying. He added on Facebook, “Specifically to the locals, if someone offers you a good white wine made locally but they don’t have any grape vines, you now know where it came from.”

Robbing a Pizzeria, Burglar Takes a Break to Make a Pie

You never know when hunger will strike, though maybe it’s best to grab a bite after a robbery. In November, the Orange County Register reported that a thief decided to make himself a pizza—even going through the trouble of putting on gloves—in between stealing money out of the register at Big Slice Pizza in Fullerton, California. He then reportedly decided to flee in style, driving off in the restaurant’s delivery car. Police say he was arrested three days later.

Thieves Break Into a Restaurant and Steal Fresh Pasta

According to Brooklyn's Borsalia restaurant, thieves broke in on Christmas Eve and stole about 10 to 15 pounds of fresh pasta, passing up more valuable items such as booze, wine, an iPad, or speakers. “It could have been worse,” manager Cristiano Rossi told the NY Post. “They didn’t break anything; there wasn’t a lot of damage. Just the pasta.”