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Waiter returns lost check worth $424,000 to a customer who didn't tip

A woman decided not to tip her waiter at a famous New York City pizzeria. And then she accidentally left her life savings on the table.
Patsy's Pizza , WNBC
/ Source: TODAY

Unless something horrific happened during the meal, not leaving a tip for waitstaff when dining out is considered to be a pretty low blow to the server. But one waiter at a famous New York City pizzeria didn't let one non-tipping customer stop him from doing the right thing.

On May 4, Karen Vinacour and her daughter went to lunch at Patsy's Pizzeria in East Harlem. The two women decided not tip their waiter, Armando Markaj, 27, after they didn't like his answer to a question they posed about the restaurant decor. The two left the restaurant, but Vinacour also left something very important behind.

When Markaj started clearing off the table, he nearly threw away a folded paper along with the rest of the table trash before realizing that the piece of paper was actually a Citibank envelope. When he opened it, the server was shocked to see a cashier's check worth nearly $424,000, NBC 4 New York reported.

Markaj, unscathed by being stiffed out of a tip, immediately ran out to the street to find his customer.

But Vinacour was already gone so Markaj, Patsy's owner Frank Brija and his son, Adem Brija, began a city-wide scouting mission to track her down. They scoured the internet for a Karen Vinacour, whose name was written on the check and, after having no success, contacted the staff at the New York Daily News to help.

Meanwhile, the 79-year-old retired social worker, was frantically searching around the city, too. Soon after she realized the check was missing, she went to a Citibank but was told that the check couldn't be stopped for 3 months — that is, if someone hadn't cashed it already. The nearly half-million dollar cashier's check was Vinacour's life savings, and she had been planning to use the funds as a down payment for a new condo.

She called various places she had visited that day to no avail. She even tried Patsy's — except it turned out to be a restaurant with the same name in a different location so the staff there told her they didn't know anything about a check.

On Wednesday, however, the Daily News staff was finally able to connect Vinacour with the East Harlem Patsy's staff.

Though Vinacour said she felt embarrassed about not tipping Markaj, she was "relieved" to finally be reunited with her money.

"What an amazing young man," Vinacour told NBC 4. "He could have thrown it in the garbage. I mean, he had that option of throwing it in the garbage, because we were not very nice to him."

Vinacour explained that she didn't tip Markaj (who currently works at Patsy's to put himself through medical school), because of how he responded to an inquiry about the restaurant walls not having many photographs of women.

She recalled to the Daily News that Markaj had shrugged and said, "Maybe women don't eat a lot of pizza?" Apparently, she and her daughter didn't take too kindly to that answer.

Not tipping "wasn't her best moment," Vinicour admitted, before offering to pay Markaj the gratuity she felt she owed him. He actually declined the money.

Aside from being reunited with her money, Vinacour is getting another special gift from the pizzeria staff.

Brija said she'll be getting her very own photo on Patsy's walls. Next time she visits the restaurant, Brija promised Vinacour she'd see it framed alongside former First Lady Chirlane McCray, former City Council Speakers Christine Quinn and Melissa Mark-Viverito, as well as the legendary journalist Barbara Walters.

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