An Omaha restaurant owner turned the tables on a would-be robber Wednesday with the aid of two customers.
Steve Zhang, owner of the China Palace at 661 N. 46th St., said he was at the cash register for a typical lunch rush when he noticed a woman “over dressed” in big coat waiting in line. The woman kept her coat's hood pulled low across her face, he said.
Zhang said he suspected the woman was using her hood to protect her face from surveillance cameras. She seemed to be avoiding eye contact.
“When she came to the counter, she put her hand in her pocket like she had a gun and said in a low voice, 'Open the drawer, give me your money,' ” Zhang said. “I pretend that I don't understand.”
The suspect repeated her demand, but Zhang said he didn't make any move to open the drawer. He didn't think she had a gun and waited for her to show a weapon.
The suspect – identified by police as Nicole Stewart, 21, of Omaha – then turned and ran out the door. Zhang said he picked up a kitchen knife that he keeps handy and went after Stewart, whose driver's license lists her as being 5-foot-6 and 250 pounds.
“If I thought she had a gun, I wouldn't have gone out,” Zhang said. “I was wrestling with her when two male customers sitting by the windows came out and helped me.”
Police arrived within a couple of minutes and took Stewart, who was unarmed, into custody.
Zhang thanked the customers who came to his aid and gave them their meals free.
Zhang, who has owned the restaurant since 2009, said this is the first time he has been robbed. He said off-duty police officers work security for the mini-mall and he feels perfectly safe.
“The community helps each other here,” he said. “Everybody watches out for each other and we are very appreciative of the community's support.”
Officer Michael Pecha, a police spokesman, said Stewart was booked into the Douglas County Corrections Center on suspicion of robbery. She has no previous record of arrests in Nebraska.