Washington: Since time immemorial, silverware has found a way to walk out of dining rooms.
But the golden age of modern restaurant in the early 2000s. That’s when, as chefs became celebrities and dining out became theatre, well-designed restaurants turned regular customers into cunning thieves.
In a story on the subject in 2002, the New York Times highlighted several items that had been stolen from notable restaurants: a $1,200 (Dh4,407) silver Champagne bucket from Locke-Ober in Boston and a $1,000 fish-shaped bamboo lamp from Dahlia Lounge in Seattle, among others.
At New York’s Eleven Madison Park, someone managed to remove one of the two dozen framed vintage photographs, sourced by then-owner Danny Meyer, from the dining room wall out in the open; its value was about $1,500.
Restaurant thieves beware: Anything that costs from $1,000 to $3,000 counts as grand larceny. And often the staff is aware that something on your table is missing.
“A lot of the time, you know people are stealing,” says Robert Bohr, partner at New York’s Charlie Bird and Pasquale Jones. “You have to decide how big you are going to make it.”
These days, we’re so deep in the Brooklyn aesthetic, there aren’t many silver Champagne buckets lying around.
So diners have found more unconventional items to covet. We’re not just talking about that one charming teaspoon or mini vase, or the mismatched coupe — not to mention toilet paper — that often finds its way into someone’s pocket on a larcenous whim.
Here, we’ve gathered tales of significant items that have been taken from restaurants, from the seemingly worthless (Why would you want that?) to the unwieldy (How do you steal a 1.8-metre tree? ).
Fruit trees stolen
The country Italian restaurant Coltivare in the Heights is known for its locavore pizzas and 280-square-metre garden, the source for dishes like the Backyard Lettuce and Herb Salad. That guests have walked in and grabbed vegetables and fruit off the vine doesn’t put it in the hall of fame. But guests started stealing actual fruit trees. Three have gone missing, including a 1.8-metre-tall kumquat tree, worth about $175.
Says chef Ryan Pera: “I was stunned and hurt, but more awed by the fact that it was obviously planned. I mean, someone had to come prepared with proper garden tools, a truck, and the know-how on how to steal a tree.”
Signature plates disappear
At the reopened mega Japanese restaurant Megu, the signature plates are disappearing. Manufactured in Hiroshima, the hand-painted plates with the Megu name stamped on the bottom were introduced for the restaurant’s original incarnation, and they’re valuable, worth about $500 each.
It’s proved relatively easy for someone to slip the plates”-used for dishes like Yellowtail Kanzuri and the Matcha Crepe Cake” — into a large handbag:
The restaurant estimates that about twice a week someone takes one. Since it reopened last October, Megu has lost about 65 plates, or $32,500 worth of tableware; they only have 60 left.
(As a result, the restaurant has asked the staff to be extra diligent when they see the plates on the table and to whisk them away as soon as the food is gone.)
Under the category of things that are technically useless outside the restaurant, here’s something interesting: At Underbelly, which celebrates the wildly diverse Houston food scene, the liquor list is styled like a comic book with corresponding art and graffitied blurbs. The plain, unassuming leather liquor lists get taken on a regular basis, along with the engaging list.
The covers are made for Underbelly by a local craftsman, and they cost $30 each — more than most but not technically valuable. Says partner Kevin Floyd: “I don’t think people use them for anything. I just think people steal them for fun, and the universe will punish them someday.”
No more tin can shakers
At the Cal-Italian restaurant Love & Salt in Manhattan Beach, the vibrantly coloured, Americana tin salt and pepper shaker cans that hold the cheques are routinely taken.
In fact, you can’t find them at the restaurant any longer. “They disappeared so often that we stopped using them,” says chef Michael Fiorelli.
“We were constantly driving across the city just to keep them in stock. It was almost like we were offering a takeaway for dining with us.”
The mismatched cocktail glasses have also proved popular. And, says Fiorelli, “we may as well give those Moscow mule mugs away.” The copper-styled cups are a preferred target among restaurant thieves everywhere.
When Robert Bohr, of Charlie Bird and Pasquale Jones, worked at the exceptional wine-oriented restaurant Cru a dozen years ago, people routinely stole the Christofle silver.
“It was like $85 a fork, and dozens of pieces would get taken,” he says.
Now the piece of tableware most likely to get stolen are Pasquale Jones’s handsome red-handled Perceval 9.47 steak knives, which go for about $50 each.
But what gets Bohr most worked up is the theft of much more mundane items at the fresh-flavoured Mediterranean spot Charlie Bird.
“We had a Mason jar of dental floss picks; people would take 500 of them,” he says. “Our ‘Employees Must Wash Hands’ sign, done by a graphic artist, people took that. And then we started using Jo Malone candles to make the bathroom at Pasquale smell nice. They cost like $75, and one night someone stole a lit candle. [ Editor’s note: Presumably they blew it out first. ] They took a candle, full of smelly liquid wax, and put it in their bag. Now I check the bathroom more frequently.”
Near the entrance to Tribeca restaurant Batard sits a formidable antique duck press.
A good vintage one starts at a couple thousand dollars and can go as high as $45,000. One night, after a Domaine Lafarge Burgundy dinner, co-owner John Winterman found that a guest had walked out with it.
“It was hailing, and he was stumbling a little bit”-a duck press weighs about 18kg — so it was easy to catch him. I said, ‘I’ll be taking that back now.’ A lot of [liquor] had been consumed that night: The guy said, OK, and kept walking.”
At the Lower East Side liquor bar Copper & Oak, the bathroom door is decorated with assorted corks and bottle stoppers. People steal the bottle stoppers right off the door; the most popular is Blanton’s bourbon’s iconic little metal jockey on horseback.
In fact, they’re so popular that Copper & Oak has stopped replacing them; customers don’t drink enough of the $100 bourbon to keep up with the rate of theft of those stoppers.
The celebrity hangout gastropub The Spotted Pig has more things stolen from it than any other restaurant, claims co-owner Ken Friedman.
The Spotted Pig’s most important stolen pig is still missing. One night, the restaurant’s namesake, a 60-centimetre ceramic antique from England, which was chained to the front, was stolen. The restaurant even started a Twitter campaign.