In perhaps one of the messiest thefts imaginable, thieves have spent the past few weeks storming through Rochester's restaurants and stealing thousands of pounds of kitchen grease.
As first reported by the Post-Bulletin, the thefts have been from restaurants that have left the oil out for the grease-collection company Midwest Grease. And it sounds like the crooks took a lot -- more than 6,000 pounds of kitchen grease over the past few weeks, worth more than $1,500.
We were ready to joke about the oddness of the case when we called up Charles Neece, the directory of regulatory compliance with Farmers Union LLC, the company that owns Grease Market.
But when we brought it up, Neece didn't crack a smile.
"This is a real problem," he told us bluntly.
Neece says these thefts aren't a new thing. The Rochester attacks are just the first serious string to hit Minnesota.
As it turns out, the organized grease-stealing business is good to get into, if you don't mind the chance of getting caught. Since the United States allowed kitchen grease to be recycled and used in biodiesel fuel, companies like Midwest Grease have sprung up across the country with the sole purpose of buying leftovers from restaurants and selling the rest to energy companies.
Restaurants just leave the stuff in large steel bins outside the back door. Grease companies come in with a truck and hose, suck it up, and hand over a few dollars.
Seems like a win-win, right? Not exactly.
Neece described how they pull it off: "In some cases, we have video of them coming in 15 minutes after the restaurant turns out the lights. They'll just come in in a panel truck or something like that, with a hose and a pump, and they suck the stuff off of the top [of the oil container]...and then just take off."
So when Midwest Grease started hearing about the Rochester thefts, it wasn't surprised.
"We knew it was happening in Chicago, along the East Coast. We were just waiting for it here," Neece says. "It was just disappointment from us."
Rochester's police department didn't answer our calls, but it told the Post-Bulletin that the incidents were the first in Rochester. If the department manages to catch the grease-napper, we'll let you know.
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