Smoothie Smackdown Brings Smooth Response Amid Info Gap

Thom Weidlich 01.27.22


This weekend brought a bizarre and unfortunate incident involving a thrown smoothie that resulted in decisive crisis responses from two companies. The firms were able to speak out quickly despite a hole in known information that might have caused others to pause.

In now-viral video, Merrill Lynch financial advisor James Iannazzo is seen in a Robeks smoothie shop in Fairfield, Connecticut, on Saturday spewing a profanity-laced tirade against the young workers there. Iannazzo ranted about “ignorant high-school kids” and called one an “immigrant loser.” He hurled the smoothie he held, hitting one worker on the shoulder, and tried to barge his way into the employee area behind the counter.

The workers called 9-1-1, but Iannazzo left before police arrived. He eventually turned himself in and has been charged, including with a hate crime.

Peanut Allergy

Less than two hours before this, Iannazzo had bought a smoothie from the store for his son, who has a severe peanut allergy. The son had a reaction and was taken to the hospital. During his tirade, the father demanded to know who had made the smoothie, but the workers said they didn’t know who of the four had done so.

A big question (it’s still unclear) is whether Iannazzo, when he ordered the drink, told the workers to nix the peanut butter because his son was allergic.

It’s interesting that neither Merrill Lynch nor Robeks used this factual confusion as an excuse not to act or speak out. You could argue Iannazzo’s behavior was so outrageous (and illegal) that no pause was required. But you could also imagine an organization holding off responding, especially because the situation involved a father upset about an apparent threat to his child’s health.

‘Immediately Investigated’

Merrill Lynch immediately fired Iannazzo, who, according to his LinkedIn profile, had been with the company since 1995. “Our company does not tolerate behavior of this kind,” said spokesman Bill Halldin. “We immediately investigated and have taken action.”

Robeks, a national chain based in Los Angeles, was quick to defend its franchisee’s workers. “The company and its franchisees have a zero-tolerance policy for this type of behavior, and we are thankful that the franchisee’s team members were not physically hurt,” said Barbara Caruso, a Robeks spokeswoman.

Robeks said it will continue to investigate the peanut-butter question. Did the store ignore Iannazzo’s request? The workers told cops Iannazzo said no to peanut butter, but didn’t mention any allergy, according to the Fairfield Police Department’s press release. Was the culprit cross contamination?

Twitter Statement

Iannazzo’s lawyer, Frank J. Riccio, posted a nicely done statement on Twitter on Sunday. His client regretted the incident but had “stressed to the staff that the product must not contain peanuts,” he wrote. “His receipt acknowledged that the order should not contain peanut butter.” That last bit doesn’t mean he told the workers about the allergy.

Riccio added: “When faced with a dire situation for his son, Mr. Iannazzo’s parental instinct kicked in and he acted out of anger and fear. He is not a racist individual and deeply regrets his statements and actions during a moment of extreme emotional stress.”

Iannazzo is charged with intimidation based on bigotry or bias, breach of peace and criminal trespass.

Photo Credit: Robeks

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