Trending: Westchester Restaurants Offering Merch

The new trend in restaurants is not food or wine. It’s stuff.



Black T-shirts from Dobbs Ferry’s The Cookery

Do you remember at rock concerts, there was always a table in the lobby? This was where you’d buy your Black Sabbath T-shirts to prove that you were there. Or—if you managed to visit CBGB before it was a John Varvatos store—you probably walked away with a T-shirt that outlasted your hardcore headache. In the land of touring bands and music clubs, you bought your stuff at the lobby’s “merch table,” and its wares were de rigueur for all diehard fans.

In the increasingly blended world of pop and restaurants—where trendy restaurants have replaced clubs and tattooed young chefs are the scene’s new rockstars—“merch” is a growing presence on the bodies and in the homes of local diners. For restaurateurs, the appeal of selling branded garb is obvious. They can diversify their revenue streams with non-perishable products, while simultaneously promoting their brands on the backs and chests of their loyal fans. Whether diners are flexing their guns in snug, black T-shirts from Dobbs Ferry’s The Cookery (which coyly suggest, “Eat More Duck Tongues” or “Eat More Bone Marrow”), or posing in front of the mirror in Mima Vinoteca’s “Save Water… Drink Wine” garb, the news is that, increasingly, Westchester diners are bringing more than doggie bags home from restaurants.

But while branded merch from destination restaurants like Blue Hill at Stone Barns (such as the locally made housewares currently available at bluehillfarm.com) might be expected, even startup restaurants are introducing their businesses with branded items. At one newcomer, Tuckahoe’s Growlers Beer Bistro, fans can indulge in $30 Alternative Earth’s “Eco-Heather” T-shirts (in gray or black, and made from organic cotton, recycled polyester, and “naturally occurring” rayon), plus, ladies’ $15 black tank tops and Gildan’s $20, 100-percent-cotton T-shirts. All of Growlers’ T-shirts are emblazoned with one of two Growlers logos, and are available behind the bar or on growlersbeerbistro.com. According to Growlers’ co-owner Eric Lorberfeld, who comes to restaurant ownership via a career in corporate branding, “We really consider the T-shirts to be walking advertisements. We think we’ve come up with a great-looking logo, so we’re spreading it around.” Fans may now also buy baseball caps at Growlers, and, soon, the restaurant’s eponymous vessels may be bought, empty, but gloriously labeled, online. Newcomer Polpettina in Eastchester also offers its branded T-shirts and growlers for sale.

As Lorberfeld suggests, the real cost in a restaurant’s merch lies not in the actual item or T-shirt, but in the design of its logo, which—prior to the merch trend—appeared mainly on signage, menu design, uniforms, and websites. But why stop there? Like The Cookery, Polpettina, and Mima, Growlers uses its branded T-shirts as server uniforms but also sells them behind the bar. Blue Hill at Stone Barns already commissioned much of its restaurant’s striking service items—Brooklyn Slate Company salvers; tall, sloping glass decanters—from local artisans. Why not also offer them for sale on its website?

For restaurateurs, the merch trend steps handily into the breach created by the antismoking campaign, which, in a matter of a decade or so, effectively removed branded matchbooks from Westchester’s pockets. But where once we carried restaurant logos in our jeans (perhaps flashing them 20 times per day as we sparked up our Marlboros), now we’re wearing those restaurant logos on our backs, just like those Black Sabbath T-shirts of our respective youths.