WAVERLY, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia restaurants are being targeted by thieves that are stealing an unexpected valuable — their used cooking grease.

Oil collection companies like Darton Enterprises in Waverly said the restaurants they partner with are coming up empty-handed when criminals swipe their oil containers.

Tony Hubbard, owner and managing partner of Darton Enterprises, said used cooking grease is a hot commodity.

“This is not trash. This is something that has value,” he said.

His company serves local restaurants all over Central Virginia and in Florida by providing them with oil containers. Restaurants use those containers to dump their grease out.

Darton Enterprises picks up the grease and hauls it away to their refinery to take the impurities out of it, and then sells it back into the biodiesel industry.

However, thieves have been getting their hands dirty by stealing cooking oil from restaurants. The owner of a New York-based fuel company suggested last year that thieves may be trying to make their own cheap fuel with the oil.

Surveillance cameras captured a pair of thieves pulling up to a Chesapeake restaurant in a white vehicle. They used what looked like a crowbar to open the container, and then siphoned the cooking grease out of it.

“They’ve become bold,” Hubbard said. “The video that we recently obtained just a couple days ago shows them doing it in broad daylight, at 7:40 a.m. in the morning. They don’t seem to be bothered in the least nor hurrying, and so it’s very frustrating but we are determined to catch them.”

Hubbard said in the past two months, thieves have stolen about 12 thousand gallons of oil from them. It’s costing his business, along with several restaurants, tens of thousands of dollars.

“We enter a time where things are economically depressed. People are coming off the pandemic, especially restaurants were affected by that, and they do look for our checks,” Hubbard said. “We do get called occasionally if something didn’t make it to them. They want to see that check and right now we can’t pay for what we’re not getting.”

Hubbard said they’re trying to crack down on the thefts by using trackers, hiring a private investigator and using surveillance cameras to identify the criminals. However, he’s pleading with law enforcement to help them further.

“We ask the law enforcement to please work with us to catch these criminals,” he said.

Hubbard said he’s offering a reward of $1,000 to anyone who has information that leads to an arrest in this string of cooking oil thefts.