In April, two individuals at different Grills locations on the same day posted about their dining experience, expressing their disappointment with Grills’ sudden decision to stop serving Bud Light in the middle of the day. The posts gained significant attention on Facebook and eventually reached our inbox, prompting us to investigate further. The first person provided us with a receipt from their lunch at Grills, which confirmed the time, location, and their order. We contacted both Grills locations in Brevard County to discuss the claims with the owner or manager.
Unfortunately, the manager at the Riverside location in Melbourne was unavailable, so we left a message with our contact information and awaited a response. We did, however, speak with a manager at the Cape Canaveral location who confirmed the cessation of Bud Light sales during the time period mentioned in the posts. When we inquired about the beer being spoiled, the manager declined to answer, deeming it a personal question. She also did not provide a specific reason for discontinuing the sale of Bud Light but affirmed that the decision affected all three locations, including the newer establishment in Orlando. We left our contact information for the owner, Joe, who was currently unavailable.
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To gather more information, we contacted the local Carroll distributor to inquire about their awareness of the situation and the claim of receiving credit for spoiled beer. Additionally, we reached out to Joe Penovich, the owner of Grills, through text messages and Facebook messages, seeking his comment on the events. However, Joe never responded to any of our correspondences, leaving his side of the story unrepresented.
After some time had passed, we published an article detailing the events surrounding Grills’ decision and the accounts of the two patrons, including the information shared by the manager at the Cape Canaveral location.
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The article quickly went viral and garnered attention from local and national media outlets. Grills faced both praise and backlash from the community.
Several days later, Joe posted a lengthy letter on the Grills Facebook page in response to the attention. However, his letter received more backlash than the original article, accumulating thousands of comments.
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Subsequently, we started receiving private messages from current Grills staff regarding the alleged incidents and other information about the working conditions at Grills. In Joe’s original post, he emphasized his Christian beliefs as the primary reason behind his decision and mentioned his intent to send a letter to Anheuser-Busch expressing his dissatisfaction with their decisions concerning the specialized can. We also requested that Grills share video footage from that day and time that Joe stated he reviewed, in order to be transparent. They did not do so.
The staff shared a letter from Joe with us, intending to keep it private but requesting its public disclosure to reveal “the real Joe.” The letter, which we received as a printed copy from multiple employees at different Grills locations, contained foul language and displayed an aggressive tone. We attempted to confirm the authenticity of the letter with Joe but received no response. Consequently, we published the letter as requested by the employees.
A few hours later, Joe published a more restrained version of the same letter on the Grills Facebook page, devoid of any offensive language. It remains uncertain which version, if any, Joe sent to Anheuser-Busch.
Joe’s words were met with both significant backlash and support nationwide. He actively engaged in various media outlets, including radio shows, local news stations, and even Fox News, to defend his position. During an interview on iHeart Radio’s Bill Mick show, Joe mentioned that the attention had actually improved business.
Nearly a month later, on May 11th, 2023, we received a cease and desist letter from attorney Michael Beltran of Tampa, FL, on behalf of Grills. Notably, Michael Beltran is a Florida State Representative and a close friend of State Representative Randy Fine. It is worth mentioning that Representative Fine has a history of instigating defamation lawsuits against us, all of which have failed and are considered harassment through litigation. We always represent ourselves in defending against these well-funded attorneys.
The cease and desist letter we received, which was three pages long and conveyed an aggressive and threatening tone, is included below. According to Florida law, such notice must be provided before initiating any defamation lawsuit. (You have to click on the image to go to the next page)
Yesterday, approximately a month after receiving the cease and desist letter and two months after the original article, Brian Loeffel, one of the original Facebook posters, issued an apology to Grills, Joe Penovich, and the “480 Grills employees.” Mr. Loeffel’s post came as a surprise, considering that he had initially defended his comments on Facebook for several days. Our investigation confirmed that Mr. Loeffel had also received a threatening letter from State Representative Beltran.
While Mr. Loeffel spoke to us off the record, we can confirm that there is evidence supporting the incidents he previously described, despite his apology claiming otherwise. Much of this evidence is based on statements provided by the employees of Grills themselves, but also the statements of other patrons that were there at the time of the incident.
We cannot explain why Mr. Loeffel chose to issue this statement and delete his original post after such a significant period had passed. However, as illustrated by the letter we received, these threats can be intimidating to individuals who are unfamiliar with handling such situations or lack the means to defend themselves against well-financed opponents.
It should also be noted that at no time did Joe or his attorney even acknowledge or dispute the statements of the second original Facebook post. She also received quite a bit of backlash and hateful messages claiming her statements were false.
Ultimately, we stand by our reporting and how we presented the information, as do dozens of other journalists and outlets. We conveyed the statements from all sides in their entirety and included the supporting documentation. It is important to note that we did not report the statements as factual occurrences since we were not present to witness them. Neither was Joe. However, the accusations themselves and the acknowledged actions of the establishment are newsworthy, as demonstrated by the extensive coverage from various news outlets. People may lie, and they may mislead, as evident in Mr. Loeffel’s recent apology and Joe’s own Facebook posts containing easily disproven falsehoods (which we addressed in our articles). Our commitment remains reporting on events and claims, whether they involve someone’s account of an incident or incidents we witness firsthand. We will continue to provide all parties with an opportunity to present their side of the story, though their participation is entirely voluntary. If we later discover any falsehoods in the statements, we will report those as well.
Our dedication lies in seeking the truth, no matter how elusive it may be at times. We will make every effort to ensure the accuracy of our reporting. Every story has multiple perspectives, and we aim to cover all angles, equipping you with the information to form your own conclusions.
During the writing of this article, Joe posted Mr. Loeffel’s apology to the Grills Facebook page with his own comments.