While eating at a restaurant, have you ever wondered who was preparing the dishes? No, not just a china collector would do that.
Have you ever taken the plate or saucer that your cup of coffee was resting on and checked it out? Some restaurants even have unique pieces of different sizes and colors that resemble the Art Deco era. You can also find high-end restaurants that only have heavy white pieces.
Restaurant dinnerware, also known as commercial/hotel china, has been specially designed for use in restaurants as heavy duty dinnerware. Some of these potteries are Buffalo, Jackson, Shenango, Wallace, Syracuse, Tepco, and Homer Laughlin, which are generally heavier than home produced ware.
Another major maker is Mayer, which can be found at New Generations of Harmony. Manager Erica Thilges says, “We have a great selection of restaurant food. We have pieces from Shenango (Pottery Company), items from the Syracuse restaurant in the mall right now, and a lot of different manufacturers are even coordinating between brands. Prices range from $3 to $22 per piece.
This dinnerware is unique because some pieces are airbrushed pieces and others are floral like those found with Joan Zenke, Minnesota Memories & Antiques in Nodine. It has parts of restaurants that used to be in Winona, like the downtown Garden Gate and the Hot Fish Shop, Winona. Zenke says, “I have several pieces and not just some of the Hot Fish Shop and the old Garden Gate restaurant, Winona, but railroad plaques, Boat Works at the Radisson when they opened in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, with their name on the plaque, and other Syracuse singles. I think some are so pretty, and I use them every day in my own kitchen.
Another restaurant ware collectible is railroad china which, like most, was made for a specific railroad company with cachet and markings. Some railroads used production or plain porcelain that could be purchased anywhere and simply had their logo stamped on it, these pieces are less collectible today.
Most of the top railroads had custom porcelain designs and styles especially for their dining cars. These coins often had scenes along the particular route the train was traveling on, for example a desert scene for the Santa Fe Railroad. These custom coins are especially popular with collectors of railroad memorabilia and most are made by Buffalo Pottery. The Milwaukee Railroad had china sets with birds in different shades of pink that can be found at some area antique malls.
Homer Laughlin got his start in restaurant tableware a little later around 1959, and Red Wing Pottery launched their line of hotels in 1960. And we can’t forget the logo on Woolworth’s cafeteria/restaurant by Shenango china in Pennsylvania.
Neil Hunt of AZ Collectibles in Winona says, “I got one that includes a sauce/cream and a few little butter patties. White with trim, nothing really pretty, weird pieces with other patterns or designs. Most of my parts come from Shenango China. Others are Homer Laughlin, sold for $6 each or less. A unique piece is a 7-1/4″ plate made by Red Wing for Diamond Jim’s, which features a stylized vintage car. The best ones I’ve had are from an Iowa hotel chain that had a corn stock pattern I have well over 100 pieces.
Restaurant items appear regularly at garage and estate sales, but be careful as some aren’t that old or noteworthy. Made of heavy porcelain, some pieces may have chipping, cracking, and surface wear, and these pieces are best avoided.
For more information on restaurant china, see “Guide to Identification and Value for Restaurant, Airline, Ship, and Railroad Dinnerware” Volume 1 & 2 by Barbara J. Conroy.
Sandy Erdman is a Winona-based freelance writer and certified appraiser who focuses on vintage, antique and collectibles. Send feedback and story suggestions to Sandy at