This fall Food Network is kicking off “Undercover Wednesdays,” which will spotlight spying on people doing what they shouldn’t in the food industry. The lineup will include shows like Mystery Diners and Restaurant Stakeout, which both demonstrate to restaurant bosses what their employees are doing when they’re not around (Mystery Diners, for example, busted a chef who was running an entire catering business out of the back of the owner’s restaurant). We can only assume there will be a show offering looks at customers doing heinous things like throwing bread baskets at waiters and dining and ditching and whatnot. Thieves, Inc. employs a different take: cracking down on shoplifters in the food retail market. Theft in the retail industry costs an annual $13 billion, and has increased 7 percent over the past year, blah blah the situation is terrible, but not terribly interesting.
Fortunately, the stars of Thieves, Inc. are Scott McDonald (CEO) and Connie Ribble (director of loss prevention) of Monument Security, and they possess undeniable chemistry and creativity that makes their efforts extremely engaging. Companies pay them to attempt to steal from their stores to see where the security holes are; then they show their clients how to fix the problem. Their first client is Garden of Eden, an upscale New York market in Chelsea that offers things like fancy organic honey and $50 bottles of olive oil. The store is also hemorrhaging thousands of dollars a month due to theft.
The show opens with Connie walking into the office and greeting her employees. Scott calls out: “Is that Connie?”
Connie eyerolls: “Oh God.”
“Thanks for finally blessing us with your presence today.”
“Yeah, because the world just revolves around you and your bald head.” And he’s her boss! They’re like this all the time. They say sometimes people think they’re married, which Connie calls “the ultimate insult for me,” but their sparring is actually awfully fun.
The team flies to New York to the fancy market, and the surveillance team sets up many cameras and hides out in a white van with graffiti on it. It’s the most innocuous white van since Ocean’s Eleven. Connie’s first bit is to use a fake baby as her shoplifting prop, and gets away with over $300 worth of fancy foods like $15 cheeses and $50 vinegars. Then Scott tries the supplier route in a blue jumpsuit (his aforementioned baldness means that he can use a lot of different wigs), and hilariously wheels the whole pickle barrel right out of the store with no one even asking what his name is.
Next, the team attempts to catch actual shoplifters in the act. Using their cameras, they spot a drunk guy who slipped high-end beer into his pockets and duffel bag, as well as a girl who tries to get away with some avocados and walnut oil. It’s fun to see the shoplifters squirm: “I paid for that!” When asked her reason (the drunk guy’s are obvious), the girl whines, “I’m not rich, I’m not going to pay $15 for walnut oil.” Connie’s excellent response: “Well, you don’t need walnut oil!” They also spot a customer who is sampling all the olives and cheeses and double-dipping from the pickle barrel. Ewww.
The team suggests probably what anyone who’s even been inside a store could suggest: more cameras, mirrors, and having the employees engage and make eye contact with the customers. Scott and Connie come back in two weeks dressed as a biker couple and try to get away with some food items in Connie’s bike helmet, but they’re busted by an employee who helpfully points out that baskets and cash registers are right over there. Success!
Future episodes should indicate how this pans out, but right now I’m puzzled as to how this show will remain interesting every week, with nothing much changing except the venue. Most likely, each episode will involve the Thieves, Inc. duo dressing up in fun costumes and stealing (which is most of the fun, let’s be honest). But how will they come up with solutions other than cameras, angled mirrors, and customer service?
The show’s intended audience is also unclear. Most people cook, and everybody eats, which accounts for the majority of the popularity of Food Network programming. But people who could learn something valuable from this show fall into two limited groups: retailers and wannabe shoplifters. The off-the-cuff chemistry of the two leads, however, might be enough to draw viewers in to Thieves, Inc.