It began innocently enough. It was Sept. 17, 2015. A cloudy, misty Thursday. Tony Aveni walked into Jim’s Small Batch Bakery in Gulf Gate and ordered a custom-baked, teal-colored birthday cake. The price: $70. The pickup time: between 2 and 3 p.m. on Sept. 26, the following Saturday.
But Aveni never made it to Jim’s that day. Bakery owner James Plocharsky and one of his employees called, but Aveni’s voicemail box was full, and he didn’t respond to texts. It wasn’t the bakery’s only no-show, but it was the first that couldn’t be quickly resolved. Plocharsky sent a certified letter to Aveni on Tuesday asking for payment and threatening legal consequences. He wrapped up the cake and placed it in the freezer. On Monday, Oct. 5, still irate, he filed a small claims complaint in a Sarasota County courthouse, asking for compensation for the cake and freezer storage time, plus reimbursement for court fees and sheriff’s costs.
“He just thought I was going to go away and eat it,” Plocharsky says. “Little did he know I don’t give up for anything. If I was a quitter, I would have quit on this business two or three years ago when I was really struggling. He messed with the wrong guy.”
Weeks later, Plocharsky and Aveni met for mediation, but couldn’t come to an agreement. Aveni denied liability. A trial was set for Dec. 9.
In the meantime, Plocharksy decided to try to bring the case to national TV. First he contacted the Judge Judy show. “I’ve had a crush on Judge Judy forever,” Plocharsky explains. The case intrigued a junior producer, but a senior producer thought a $70 cake was too low-stakes. But The People’s Court agreed to hear the case, and Aveni consented to abide by the judge’s decision. So last December, Plocharsky flew to Newark, N.J., with the frozen cake in a cooler, and traveled to Stamford, Conn., to tape the program.
The show was broadcast in late April. “You paid $105 to pursue your $70, because small claims is never about the money,” Judge Marilyn Milian said to Plocharsky during the episode. “You must have been angry.” Plocharsky answered that he was indeed “upset.” He prevailed, winning $390—$70 for the cake, $105 for the court and summons fees and an additional $215. Beautiful when it was baked, by the time the show was taped the cake looked sad and lopsided. The court offered Aveni the cake after he lost the case, but he declined.
We called Aveni to hear his side of the story, but his voicemail box was still full.