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Heritage coffee stand robbed

Posted: August 28, 2014 - 10:32am  |  Updated: August 29, 2014 - 12:08am
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Sarah Solberg, 20, serves a customer at the Heritage Coffee stand in Lemon Creek. She was working on Wednesday evening when a man robbed the stand with a weapon.  MELISSA GRIFFITHS | JUNEAU EMPIRE
MELISSA GRIFFITHS | JUNEAU EMPIRE
Sarah Solberg, 20, serves a customer at the Heritage Coffee stand in Lemon Creek. She was working on Wednesday evening when a man robbed the stand with a weapon.

Twenty-year-old Sarah Solberg, a barista at the drive-through Heritage Coffee stand on Glacier Highway in Lemon Creek, didn’t immediately realize she was being robbed.

“Um, who are you?” Solberg said was her first thought when an unknown man walked into the stand through the open back door entrance at about 5 p.m. Wednesday. “We have these warehouse workers that sometimes come in the back door, and I didn’t know if he worked for Heritage or what he was doing there,” she explained.

It clicked when he pointed a weapon at her and told her to open the cash register.

“He was standing there with a shank-y sort of tool, like, sharp kind of tool, pointed to my face and he said, ‘I’m sorry ma’am, open the cash register,'” Solberg recounted in an interview Thursday between ringing up customers. “I went over and I pressed the button to open the cash register, and he (counted) the money in like two seconds and turned around and bolted out the door.”

Solberg was scared the man was going to stab her, but she made it through the incident — which she said lasted about 10 seconds — without being harmed. She immediately called 911, and police arrived on scene before she got off the phone with dispatchers. About nine officers surrounded a nearby warehouse where Solberg saw him run, but he still managed to get away.

Police on Thursday said they are still searching for the suspect, who is described as a white man with a thin build wearing blue jeans and a black jacket. The man was also wearing a black scarf over his face to conceal his identity.

“Just his eyes were showing,” Solberg said.

It’s not clear whether the man was caught on security camera.

This is only the second time in 40 years one of the drive-thru Heritage Coffee stands has been robbed, said Heritage Coffee Roasting Co. Founder and President Grady Saunders. The last time was almost exactly a year ago when a man robbed the drive-through stand at the airport. The suspect in that case also used a tool as a weapon, not a gun or knife.

“It sounds a lot like the same guy,” Saunders said in an interview Thursday.

He added, “From what the police told me and what Sarah told me ... (the suspect) basically said the same thing, basically said he had the same thing and sort of looked the same, I guess. Different clothing but same height, weight.”

Police have not yet said if they believe the two cases are related.

A suspect in the old robbery case was identified but never arrested or charged in connection to the crime.

“It sounds like the detective had a very strong idea of who was involved but knowing something and being able to prove it are often times two different things,” Juneau Police Department spokesman Lt. David Campbell said Thursday of the old case. “It looks like the case was forwarded to the DA’s office for their review to see what else we could do or whether there was enough for charges, but it never reached that benchmark.”

Police at that time were investigating whether the airport coffee stand robbery was related to another robbery the same day — a man identified as Joseph Robert Lofstrom was caught on camera stealing the tip jar from the Sandbar & Grill. It turned out JPD was already looking for Lofstrom in connection to a theft reported a week earlier at the Juneau Gold Buyer, where Lofstrom was an employee. He has since pleaded guilty to those crimes and served his jail time.

Police never confirmed Lofstrom was the suspect in the airport coffee stand robbery and they’re not saying now whether he is considered a suspect in the new case.

Solberg said she is still in shock from being held up on Wednesday but she wanted to return to work the next day.

“Honestly, I’m not too worried about it,” she said. “I have the door locked now, of course, and I’m keeping the windows shut.”

Heritage management instructed employees to keep the door locked and the windows shut following last year’s robbery. But with time, employees became a little lax with the rules. Solberg noted the back door had already been opened by another employee when she started work on Wednesday and she didn’t think much about it.

“They said you always keep your doors shut and always keep them locked, but then, you know, it’s Juneau,” she said, referring to the fact the capital city has a small town feel with a low rate of violent crime.

“After a while, people started leaving the door open because in the summers it gets really hot inside this booth, so having the door open really does help and everybody leaves it open now.”

The company’s president said Heritage has strict rules in place for security reasons but they can’t enforce them all the time.

“We can’t control everybody personally, what they do, 24 hours,” Saunders said. “We can tell them what they’re supposed to do and we hope for their own safety they follow the rules, but sometimes they don’t.”

Saunders noted they have good security at all their locations, including the drive-through stands: dead bolts on all the doors, security cameras and a panic button affixed to the alarm system, which dials the police department when pressed. Unfortunately, he said, the panic buttons aren’t always useful since the employee may not be able to go out of their way to press the button. The company may be looking foranother solution to that in the future.

“We tell our employees do not resist, give them the money,” he noted. “The money is not worth anybody getting hurt.”


• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include information from interviews with the barista who was robbed and the president and founder of Heritage Coffee. The original article appears below.

•••

Juneau police are searching for a man who robbed the Heritage Coffee stand in the Lemon Creek area last night.

Police said a man wearing a black scarf over his face walked into the business and threatened a 20-year-old barista with a weapon while demanding money at about 5 p.m. Wednesday. The weapon was described to police as a “pointed tool.”

The man left on foot with an undisclosed amount of cash, police said. No one was reported injured in the incident.

Responding officers arrived on scene in the 1500 block of Glacier Highway about two minutes after the woman called 911, said Juneau Police Department spokesman Lt. David Campbell. Campbell was one of the nine officers who searched the area for the suspect to no avail.

The suspect is described as a white man with a thin build who was wearing blue jeans and a black jacket. It’s not clear whether he was caught on security camera. Campbell said he’s not sure if police will be releasing a picture of the suspect because he’s uncertain if they have one.

The robbery comes exactly a year and a day after the last time a Heritage Coffee stand was robbed. A man held up the coffee stand at the airport location on Aug. 26, 2013, prompting a search by law enforcement that was unsuccessful. Police did end up identifying a suspect in that case, but he was never charged.

“It sounds like the detective had a very strong idea of who was involved but knowing something and being able to prove it are often times two different things,” Campbell said of the case a year ago. “It looks like the case was forwarded to the DA’s office for their review to see what else we could do or whether there was enough for charges but it never reached that benchmark.”

Campbell said he did not know if the two cases were related.

Anyone with information about the crime is encouraged to call JPD at 586-0600.

• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at emily.miller@juneauempire.com.

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