Dave Robinson never expected his last day of work would be the one that made him famous.
After three years in dining services at the University of Connecticut, the 42-year-old dad had grown accustomed to the occasional drunk, rowdy student, especially on those weekend karaoke nights on campus when they’d stay open until 1:30 a.m. and everyone seemed to show up for late-night munchies.
But this was a Sunday, it wasn’t even 10 p.m., and Dave was a week away from being reunited with his wife and kids. He was also mere hours away from permanently retiring his gold UConn name tag reading, “Location Supervisor.” In other words, like a veteran detective who’s a day away from retirement in a cliché-filled cop movie, he wasn’t having any nonsense that could mess that up.
Then Luke Gatti—soon to be known throughout the universe as the “UConn Mac and Cheese Kid”—walked into the student union and into Dave’s life with a craving for hot, spicy, savory pasta, and a blood-alcohol level that we’ll just call questionable.
Soon, Gatti would be screaming for his sandals while a campus police officer arrested him, millions of people would be watching the whole Robinson vs. Gatti showdown on YouTube, and the two of them would be played by David Koechner and Justin Theroux respectively on a “Jimmy Kimmel Live” sketch.
These guys will be linked in viral-video infamy forever—Robinson remembered for his Zen-like ability to not punch a guy who by all measures appeared to be asking for it, and Gatti for his epically bad decision-making skills—but there’s a little more to it than that.
Dave was living on a different continent within a week of his Internet fame, but we were able to track him down to get the rest of the story and hear about the offer he’s extending to Gatti.
Quote illustrations by Chris Gosling
So what was going on with you the day this whole incident went down?
A lot. That was actually my last day of work—not related to the incident. My wife is from South America and she went back there in May. She had an ailing father to care for and other things going on and it was looking like I was faced with breaking up the family or move to another country. She’d given up her whole life to come live with me, so I thought, “Maybe it’s my turn,” so that’s what I was getting ready to do. It was kind of emotional. I was saying goodbye to a lot of people.
We come into the video in the middle of the whole thing. What happened before that?
Mike, the guy who took the video, was working the dining room and he said, “Hey, just to let you know, some kid just walked in with a 40-ounce.” My first thought was, “It’s my last day, I don’t even want to touch this.” I almost ignored it, but something hit me and I said, “You know, that’s just too much to overlook.”
So I walk over to the server area and I see this guy leaning against the counter holding a 40 of Colt 45. So I go over to him with my hands up like, “Hey dude, what are you doing buddy?” and I was just expecting him to be like, “Oh,” and chuck the beer, at which point I would have overlooked it and let him get his food. But no, he looked at me like screw you and just pounds the beer right in front of me. He just went bottoms up; he killed it, right in front of me.
How do you react to that?
At this point, and this part never got into the news, he actually already had his mac and cheese and his jalapeños, he was just waiting for more bacon to come out. So he got his little to-go box and he gets in line to pay. All I said to him was something like, ‘Hey man, you can’t do that again,” but his whole demeanor was like, “who is this irrelevant piece of crap talking to me?” At that point he’d not only broken the rules, but disrespected me as a human being. So I just grabbed the food right out of his hand—I did it real quick—and threw it in the trash. That’s when the camera kicks in.
Was it normal to have to deal with people like this?
It was pretty normal for me to find empty beer cans in the bathroom, but I’ve never had anyone just drinking in the open like that. I’m not the alcohol police. If I’d had to kick out every drunk person we’d have to kick out half the people every Friday night. But usually if kids were getting rowdy I’d walk over and say, “Everything OK over here?” and they’d immediately calm down.
So now he’s repeatedly demanding his mac and cheese and shoving you. What’s going through your mind?
I’m not trained in martial arts or self-defense or anything, but I’m thinking if I try to physically remove him it’s going to turn into a scrap. I could have just tripped him and put him down, but I was thinking, “What if he hits his head and starts bleeding?” I had a plane ticket a week away. I was thinking about my family. I couldn’t end up in court. Also, he wasn’t really threatening to me, even when he pushed me. I could tell he was like, “OK, I still want my mac and cheese, so how can I do this?”
But you were incredibly calm. Weren’t you tempted to hit him? Weren’t you mad?
Of course. He’s insulting me. He’s insulting my profession. (Note: Somewhat ironically, Robinson earned a degree in International Affairs from the University of Maine, while Gatti has reportedly been forced to leave two universities due to arrests at this point). I was also cracking up inside. I looked over at Mike (the camera man) and he just had this huge grin on his face like “Yeah, keep going.”
So where is Bill McKay at this point, the guy who tackled him?
Bill is a chef, so he would have been way in the back of the kitchen. So obviously somebody told him something was going on. He’s not a mess-around kind of guy.
Are you guys tight? Because he really seemed to be defending you.
Not especially. I just know him from work, but I always treated him with respect and he appreciated that, I think. I’m still not sure if he came out there because he had my back, or if he would have done that for anyone. He’s not someone to take a bunch of B.S.
So what happened after Bill took Luke down and the cops arrested him?
There were probably more than 100 people standing around watching and people kept coming up wanting to shake my hand saying, “Congratulations, good job.” I was so wired I probably didn’t go to sleep until after 4 a.m.
So when did you realize you were internet famous?
I assumed the video would go online or whatever. Somebody said we should put it on WorldstarHipHop or whatever, and I thought maybe it would get a little bit of attention, but I had no idea it would go viral like that. I still don’t really know how it got out, though. Mike had it online in like a lock box, and he texted a few people the code so they could watch it, and then it popped up on YouTube. He didn’t put it there. I never saw myself on TV, I was too busy packing. I was getting emails from work saying Inside Edition is looking for me, but I just told them don’t give out my info. I was moving to a city in South America that can be sketchy, so I didn’t want to be known. I already stick out like a sore thumb down here. I did become obsessed with the YouTube comments. Some people were saying, “Oh, if it was a black kid they would have called the cops immediately,” but come on, how could anyone know that?
Do you feel bad for him at this point?
It’s a shame he got kicked out of college. I’m sorry that it happened, but as far as his legal punishment, he’s getting off pretty easy. I saw his apology video online, so I made an account just to respond to him and say, “This isn’t an apology, apologize directly to me.” Later I got a response saying that he did write a letter to me and work just never forwarded it to me. (Note: Robinson says that Gatti has contacted him by email since this interview to apologize personally). He doesn’t owe me anything. I was doing my job and, really, no harm no foul. He didn’t punch me in the nose. So I don’t care if he says sorry. It doesn’t do anything for me. But if he wants to apologize, he should do it for himself, for his own redemption.
So what was the offer you made to him?
I messaged him on YouTube to let him know I really am sincere about this: If you want to apologize to me, do it to my face, but I’m in another continent, so come here and do it. It would probably do you a lot of good to get a culture shock and get the slap in the face of seeing what 99 percent of the world actually lives like. You don’t come back the same if you come down here. I’m not living in poverty myself, but a lot of people are. You’d have to be the most blind, arrogant person to not be affected by it. So Luke, it would be good for you to step outside your comfort zone and see the world a little bit.
A lot of people were saying this whole thing shows how entitled our youth feels. Do you feel that way after working around a bunch of college kids as a grown man for the past three years?
Actually, no. We’d serve close to 5,000 students a day, even lots of drunk kids, and I’ve always felt like as long as you show them a basic level of respect they do the same. Most of them are decent and respectful. I’d say the thing with Luke was more of an aberration than a signal of some kind of a cultural shift.
So how good is that bacon jalapeño mac and cheese though?
I have never actually tried that combination, but the mac and cheese there really is pretty good. I like jalapeños and how can you go wrong with bacon? I’m sure if I’d worked there another day or two, I’d have eaten a lot of it.
Apology accepted?! The saga continues...