Restaurants offered a unique feast of custom dishware, china

Columnist Sandy Erdman says restaurant dishware offered a heavier, sturdier version of some popular place setting manufacturers.

The dogwood print restaurant ware was used at the former Hot Fish Shop, Winona and now at Minnesota Memories & Antiques, Nodine with Joan Zenke.jpg
The dogwood pattern on the Syracuse china restaurant ware used at the former Hot Fish Shop, Winona, and now at Minnesota Memories & Antiques, Nodine with Joan Zenke.
Contributed photo
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Eating at a restaurant, did you ever wonder about the dishes as to who made them? No, not just a collector of china pieces would do this.

Did you ever pick-up the plate or saucer that your mug of coffee was resting on and check it out? Some restaurants even have some unique pieces in various sizes and colors that resemble the Art Deco era. You can also find some upscale restaurants that just have plain heavy white pieces.

Restaurant ware, also known as commercial/hotel china, was made especially for use in restaurants as heavy duty dishware. Some of those potteries are Buffalo, Jackson, Shenango, Wallace, Syracuse, Tepco, and Homer Laughlin, which is generally heavier than dinnerware produced for the home.

The red rose that was used at the former Garden Gate restaurant, Winona, found now with Joan Zenke at Minnesota Memories & Antiques, Nodine
Contributed photo

Another major maker is Mayer, which can be found at New Generations of Harmony. Manager Erica Thilges says, “We’ve got a great selection of restaurant ware dishes. We have pieces from Shenango (Pottery Company), the Syracuse restaurant ware in the mall right now and many from different manufacturers even coordinate between brands. Prices range from $3-$22 per piece.”

This dishware is unique because some ware are airbrushed pieces and some are floral as those found with Joan Zenke, Minnesota Memories & Antiques in Nodine. She has pieces from the restaurants once in Winona such as the downtown Garden Gate and the Hot Fish Shop, Winona. Zenke says, “I have several pieces and not just some from Hot Fish Shop and the old Garden Gate restaurant, Winona, but railroad plates, Boat Works at the Radisson when they opened in LaCrosse, Wis., with their name on the plate, and other singles by Syracuse. I find that some are so pretty, and I do use some every day in my own kitchen.”


Showing Shenango and Mayer restaurant china at the New Generations of Harmony.
Contributed photo

Another collectibles of restaurant ware is the railroad china that, like most, was designed for a specific railroad company with a back-stamp and markings. Some railroad companies used production or plain china that could be bought anywhere and simply had their logo stamped on them, these pieces are less collectible today.

Most of the better railroads had custom china patterns and styles made just for their dining cars. These pieces often had scenes along the particular route the train ran on, for example a desert scene for the Santa Fe Railroad. Such custom pieces are especially popular now with railroad memorabilia collectors and most made by Buffalo pottery. The Milwaukee Railroad had sets of china with birds in various shades of pink that can be found in some antique malls in the area.

Homer Laughlin got a slightly later start in restaurant ware around 1959, and Red Wing pottery introduced its hotel line in 1960. And we can't forget the logo on the Woolworth's cafeteria/restaurant ware by Shenango china in Pennsylvania.

Neil Hunt of A-Z Collectibles in Winona says, “I have some that includes a gravy/creamer and some small butter pats. Some white with trims, nothing real pretty, some odd pieces with other patterns or designs. Most of my pieces are from Shenango china. Others are Homer Laughlin, selling for $6 each or less. A unique piece is a 7-1/4 " plate made by Red Wing for Diamond Jim's, that has a stylized antique car on it. The best I have had are from an Iowa hotel chain that had a corn stock pattern. I have well more than 100 pieces. A few months ago, I even had a small plate from the former St. Teresa College, Winona.”

Diamond Jim's was a member only night club located in Lilydale, Minn., and this unique 1960 dishware with the antique car was made by Red Wing pottery found by Neil Hunt, A-Z Collectibles, Winona, a some very unique pieces.
Contributed photo

Restaurant ware regularly shows up at yard and estate sales, but be careful as some are not that old or noteworthy. Made of hefty china, some pieces may have a chip, crack and surface wear, and it is best to avoid those pieces.

The back-stamp on the Diamond Jim's night club dinnerware showing the Red Wing.
Contributed photo

For more information on restaurant china, check out “Identification & Value Guide for Restaurant, Airline, Ship & Railroad Dinnerware” Volume 1 & 2 by Barbara J. Conroy.

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Sandy Erdman is a Winona-based freelance writer and certified appraiser concentrating on vintage, antique and collectible items. Send comments and story suggestions to Sandy at .

Antiques & Collectibles — Sandy Erdman column sig

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