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Shop Where You Dine

Restaurants sell all sorts of things these days. You could furnish your house.

April 18, 2001|LESLEE KOMAIKO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

I've had restaurant bills delivered on little plastic trays, tucked into leather portfolios, even neatly folded in envelopes. But not until a recent lunch at Locanda del Lago, a popular Italian restaurant on Santa Monica's Third Street Promenade, did I ever get my bill in a boat.

It was a miniature boat, a few inches long, made of wood, marked with the restaurant's name and city. Cute enough. But what really struck me was the note affixed to the deck of the boat, under the bill, reading: "Lucia: a traditional boat of Lake Como. You can purchase a Lucia (with oars) for $12 from your server."

These days it seems there is nothing you can't buy at a restaurant. You could outfit an entire home simply by eating out.

Of course there are the comestibles. Napa Valley Grille in Westwood, for example, features a full-service shop, mere steps from its bar, where diners can pick up a variety of vinegars, olive oils and tapenades from Olivier Napa Valley, a St. Helena-based company. Mishima, a casual Japanese noodle place in West Los Angeles, sells Japanese chewing gum and boxes of mochi ice cream. And Lawry's sells its beloved salad dressing. ('You need to ask for it," says General Manager Dick Powell.)

The selling is a bit more overt at the House of Blues' Porch restaurant. "The servers and bartenders have a step-by-step program," explains restaurant manager Danielle Bennerk. "The last part is to invite people back and also to visit the retail store upstairs." In the retail store, fans of the restaurant's signature hot sauce can load up on the stuff. They can also snag T-shirts, mugs, plates, scented candles, harmonicas, even massage oil and folk art.

Arnie Morton's, the swanky steakhouse on La Cienega Boulevard, sells pewter pig lamps for $75. "It's [Arnie] Morton's sign of contentment," says General Manager Gabriel Tellez. "It's very cute. It shows a pig with a reposed, content look."

While the restaurant doesn't advertise the lamps, which grace every table, it does feature an example under glass at the host stand. And every month, a couple go home with customers. "We sell to people who collect pigs or people who collect lamps," says Tellez. "Some people just fall in love with them."

Even more popular are the steak knives, $55 for a set of six. Sales pick up during the spring and summer barbecue season and then peak around Christmas. "Come November or December," Tellez says, "I can't keep enough knives in the house."

Chaya Brasserie, the Cal-Asian perennial in West Hollywood, sells the $40 glass teapots in which fresh mint tea is served ('So long as we have them in stock," says Manager Lawrence Moore). When the restaurant introduced them three years ago, it didn't intend to sell them. But soon, recalls Moore, a customer inquired about buying one. Moore directed her to Crate & Barrel, which had a similar model. But the woman wanted the custom Chaya design. "She begged and begged," says Moore, "and I sold her one."

Moore has been surprised by the response to the teapots, which the restaurant does not promote. "We've had to take people's names and create a waiting list," he says.

West Hooker, owner of Locanda del Lago, was equally surprised by the popularity of the Lucia boats, which get their name from a famous romance novel by Alessandro Manzoni. He brought 50 from Lake Como, Italy, where his parents live, when he first opened the restaurant. He planned to use them as breadstick holders. When they didn't work out, he says, they became check trays. "Within one month, we were out."

Hooker had his father, who lives next door to the craftsman who makes them, send 50 more, and, in two months, they too were gone. But they weren't exactly selling. "People thought they were souvenirs," says Hooker. "And I didn't know how to say [they weren't]. It was hard for me."

The addition of "for sale" signs on the boats has helped matters. But, says Hooker, the boats are not intended as money-makers; the $12 "kind of pays for shipping."

Tourists account for a significant portion of the sales at Santa Monica's Border Grill, too, where a display by the register contains T-shirts, caps, pepper mills, CDs, packs of dried peppers and cookbooks signed by chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger. "Lots of times, tourists who are big TV fans will have Border Grill on their list right after Disneyland," says Carollynn Bartosh, director of marketing. "They are more inclined to buy T-shirts or caps."

Locals, on the other hand, are usually the ones to inquire about the colorful glassware on the tables. Josh Schweitzer, Milliken's husband and an architect, designed the glasses. And they, of course, are for sale.

So are the stylish Arnolfo Di Cambio crystal glasses, from water to whiskey, and white square Bernardaud trays, used at Patina, and featured in the restaurant's annual gift catalogue. (A copy of the catalogue, incidentally, is delivered to each table with the check.)

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