scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Restaurant customers are stealing everything but the kitchen sink

The twice-stolen “punk cat” at the Punk & Poet.Michael Diskin

They really weren’t expecting the punk-rock cat photograph to be stolen. After all, who would want a portrait of a rough-looking feline in a sleeveless, studded leather jacket? More to the point, who would be so bold as to walk out the door with a gold-framed 18-by-24-inch piece of artwork?

Just the same, the picture of the sneering kitty on display at South Boston’s the Punk & Poet has been nabbed not once but twice.

“It gets ripped off the wall,” says Assembly Design Studio’s Erica Diskin, who decorated the space. “People really want punk cats.”

Here’s a secret, potential cat burglars: She got it on Etsy.


Across town at the Back Bay’s Citrus & Salt, managing partner Colleen Hagarty can’t keep her Mexican water glasses in stock. The sturdy, slightly frosted glasses are engraved with flowers.

“We’ve had such a problem,” she laments. “People keep taking them. The lead time for ordering more is a couple of weeks, and right now they’re in customs.”

Thieves also abscond with soup spoons etched with “C&S” and custom-made soap dispensers shaped like skulls (also an Etsy find).

“It’s brutal,” says Hagarty, whose design budget was roughly $200,000.

Then again, who can blame a thief? After a couple of Citrus & Salt margaritas, it’s easy to get swept away by an aesthetic that has been described as “Golden Girls lanai.”

Often Instagrammed bar stools at Citrus & Salt.Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

The restaurant’s bar stools — a garish swirl of coral and gold, the furniture version of a caftan — also draw interest. There is much oohing and aahing and Instagramming. You can almost envision Blanche Devereaux teetering atop one while flirting with Mel Bushman.

But they didn’t come from an NBC set. Wayfair sells them for a mere $154.

“I think people are really excited about being able to take their favorite restaurants home with them. They’re excited to bring home a memento, ingredient, or tool to remember a great meal,” says woodworker Thea Price-Eckles, a former bar manager at Jamaica Plain’s Brassica Kitchen + Cafe who makes walnut cutting boards and maple cocktail muddlers, which she often sells to customers ($40 and up for muddlers; $38 and up for cutting boards).


It’s not enough to wow diners with exceptional food. Design has to be interesting, too. It has to tell a story. It’s one more way for restaurateurs to show off their uniqueness, their quirks, their backstory.

This really applies when restaurant use local designers, says Jamaica Plain potter Jeremy Ogusky. He supplies ceramic tableware for restaurants like Bambara, Townsman, and Waypoint. People want to know where their lettuce is from — and their forks.

“Customers value the fact that the restaurant is invested in the local community,” Ogusky says. “People who work in the hospitality industry understand this very deeply. It took a while. Farms were the first things people thought about, but now you see at interesting restaurants that everything is very intentionally chosen. It’s much more than just a leg of lamb. It’s the chairs; it’s the light. And people appreciate it.”

Customers often spot Ogusky’s logo on the bottom of dishes and end up commissioning personal pieces, he says. Wedding registries are big. A four-piece customized place setting with two plates, a bowl, and a cup is $130 or so.

Stocking covetable décor is also a shrewd business move. At the South End’s Beehive, artwork is a way to draw in new customers who might enjoy the food — but might really enjoy owning an offbeat piece of art. The restaurant functions as a gallery with guest curators, where there are 15 to 20 new pieces for sale every three to four months.


“The restaurant is inside the Boston Center for the Arts, and this is part of our charter, to be an art forum,” says owner Jack Bardy. “Nowadays, people want a multidimensional experience. You need to hit them in all of the senses.”

In an Instagram era, it’s a new conversation starter for customers and it’s a way to root oneself in the community.

“People love how chefs or bartenders have more to their story. A lot of bartenders do it as an interim thing. And [customers say], ‘OK, so what else do you do?’ It opens up the door to a lot of other conversations, and it makes the customer feel interested in the bartenders as people,” Price-Eckles says.

At Oak + Rowan in Fort Point, where the neighborhood’s futuristic newness can be alienating, it was important for owner Nancy Batista-Caswell to pay homage to local businesses. People compliment her for the restaurant’s soft, welcoming pendant lighting above the bar, she says.

“It’s about inviting people into our home. People are always like, ‘I could live here,’ ” she says.

And you could: Those lovable lights are from Chimera, which is next door.

A private room at Cambridge’s Benedetto is festooned with detailed maps of Italy and Cambridge. They draw plenty of questions from customers, says co-owner Pam Ralston. They come from WardMaps, just down the road on Massachusetts Avenue. Ralston says they’re part of the restaurant’s story and her own.


“I live on the Somerville-Cambridge line. I never leave this triangle,” she says, laughing. “People ask me, ‘How did you decide on them? Where did you get them?’ I get customers from Cambridge who like hearing our story and how it turned into the restaurant’s story. People love hearing why things are important to you.”

Cymbal chandeliers at B3.B3

At the Back Bay’s B3 restaurant and performance space, where Berklee students provide live music, customers ask about the chandeliers made from Norwell’s Zildjian cymbals, crafted by Taunton’s ILEX. They cost $10,000, but for music buffs, it’s an investment.

But what if you’re in love with a lamp or a plate but too shy to ask where it’s from — and too ethical to steal?

“Take a photo of it and load it onto a Google image search,” suggests interior designer and TV personality Taniya Nayak. Chances are, you’ll get your answer.

Nayak, who has appeared on “Restaurant: Impossible,” says it’s actually easy for civilians to shop like restaurateurs.

She likes Woburn’s Daltile for customized tiles; Peabody’s Manzel for accessories; Arteriors for lighting (a brand available at local vendors like Yale Appliance and Lighting); and e-retailers like Hayneedle, Industry West, and Wayfair.

Still, sometimes customers do get carried away.


Restaurateur Ed Kane recently opened Explorateur in the Theatre District, and he’s already planning for a heist. One likely victim: a curio cabinet stocked with oddities from the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in the restaurant’s Library Room.

“We have an over and under: What’s going to go first?” he says.

A charcoal rendering of Ray Charles at Explorateur.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff

There are also large charcoal renderings of icons like Ray Charles, Oscar Wilde, Amelia Earhart, Alexander McQueen. Those characters are meaningful to him, and they’re positioned in hard-to-reach spots. They’re also esoteric enough that guests are more likely to ask questions than to steal.

“A lot of people don’t know who Oscar Wilde is. About 25 percent of people get it. A lot of people get Alexander McQueen, which shows you who our customers are,” Kane says.

But utensils? Forget it.

“The glassware goes. The silverware goes. At my restaurant Tosca, I had all this hammered silverware, and people would steal it,” he says, laughing. “Someday I’m going to go to dinner at someone’s house and say, ‘Hey! Where did you get this?’ ”

Kara Baskin can be reached at