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Curious boba shop cookie caper in San Bernardino leaves owners flummoxed

Hours before sunrise on Sunday, a surveillance video showed three bandits bludgeon their way into a boba shop in San Bernardino by smashing a glass door and stealing an iPad, T-shirts — and 20 cookies.

The owner of a neighboring gun store, who conducts daily inspections of all businesses in the shopping area, discovered the damage. Alerted to the break-in, Viva La Boba co-founder Tansu Philip arrived at the store and found cookies and merchandise strewn across the floor.

Reviewing the camera footage, Philip said, she observed the three thieves making a mad dash to grab whatever they could. The burglars stole peanut butter, espresso chocolate chip and walnut chocolate cookies while leaving behind the white chocolate macadamia nut and chocolate chip.

There is no accounting for taste.

Much of the estimated $2,000 in damage is not cookie-related, however. The main losses for the owners were the smashed door and a newly purchased iPad.

The break-in left Philip more puzzled than concerned about the stolen items.

“It made no sense what they took,” Philip said. “They took all of our T-shirts and cookies but left thousands of dollars of fancy high-quality equipment that they could have easily made off with.”

Philip stated that she and her staff work tirelessly to create a safe, community-oriented space, so having her business targeted makes the break-in much more painful.

“It's especially sad when it's a mom-and-pop shop like ours because we do put a lot of work into the store,” Philip said. “We are solely responsible for the store's well-being and our staff.”

Philip’s boyfriend, David Friedman, co-founded Viva La Boba and co-owns a real estate group with his father, who rents storefronts in downtown San Bernardino. Their agency aims to bring small businesses owned by artists, people of color and underrepresented communities to downtown.

“We have a large stake in the future of San Bernardino,” Friedman said. “We're building this community, and we have a say in what kind of businesses come into downtown.”

The recent break-in is the second time burglars have targeted the boba shop. The first occurred in 2019, which compelled the shop to shift to a cashless business, a practice disclosed by signs in front of the building.

Although burglary and vandalism still occur in downtown San Bernardino, Philip said, she has noticed a significant reduction since her business established its presence in the area.

San Bernardino Police Department statistics show a notable drop in burglary and property crime in the city over the last five years.

With a small staff of four baristas, Philip highlighted the team's high morale due to the surrounding community's supportive response. She mentioned that the store received numerous donations and had a record-breaking number of customers on the day of the break-in.

“I was worried about people being scared or upset, but I'm relieved everybody was safe,” she said. “The best-case scenario for us was that everyone leaped into action without hesitation. And that really helped.”

Despite the shop being closed on Mondays, supporters arrived in droves that day to show their support, which Philip had to turn away.

Many people have suggested that the shop increase safety measures to prevent another break-in, but Philip said that doing so would go against her store’s mission of making downtown San Bernardino vibrant and approachable.

“We don't want to ruin the aesthetic just in the name of security and show people that we're scared,” she said.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.